Invest in a Brand Character

Over ten years ago, Old Spice launched The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. Such characters help brands grow because they become what research company System 1 dubs ‘fluent devices’, serving as an instant reminder of the brand and what it stands for. Learn from best-in-class examples from Cannes Lions where characters have been used with ingenuity and flare to bring brand messages to life.

The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, Old Spice, Wieden+Kennedy Portland (2010)

Old Spice’s character is a parody of traditional masculine tropes and this ad pokes fun at societal norms by taking them to the extreme. It illustrates how brands can use characters to connect with their target audience and become part of popular culture. The TV commercial was created to appeal to men as well as women, showing them both how great a man can smell when they use Old Spice Body Wash.
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The Most Interesting Man in the World, Dos Equis, Havas New York (2010)

While other beer brands continued to use outdated masculine stereotypes, Dos Equis launched a character that resonated with its target by making him impossibly cool - ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ (MIM).

In their research, Dos Equis discovered the target audience was irked by the clichés and sophomoric humour employed by the category. The MIM represented a more sophisticated character drinkers could relate to – implying that they too could live a more interesting life. The integrated piece of work launched with longer 30-second spots to develop the exotic character and shorter 15-second spots demonstrating wit and wisdom; radio focused on his lore and legend.

What’s more, an online academy provided a training ground to enhance its participants “interestingness” with awe-inspiring skills and eclectic knowledge – it garnered 26,620 registered users. The Most Interesting Man infiltrated pop culture successfully. Of course, his lifestyle tapped certain stereotypes, but it did so with a perfectly arched eyebrow.

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Burger King Whopper Sign David Miami (2016) 

The King has been a long-standing frontman in Burger King’s communications. In this initiative, he used his clout to do good. In the build-up to the American Sign Language Day, The King invited the Deaf Community to help suggest a sign for the Whopper, as there was no official one in existence.

A combination of TV spots secretly inviting the Deaf community to put forward their ideas, and a visit by the King to the Burger King nearest the largest Deaf university in America helped kickstart the callout for suggestions. With over 200 Whopper Sign suggestions, and a 98% positive sentiment rating, The King, together with the Deaf community, co-created an official sign; the first brand with a sign in ASL. This work serves to show that a brand character can make a brand’s more purposeful initiatives a little more personal than a corporate directive.

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Budweiser, Goodby Silverstein & Partners (2004)

The Clydesdales have been a fluent device for Budweiser for decades and this spot shows how to make them relevant for a modern audience. Budweiser particularly wanted to cut through the clutter and engage with 21 to 27-year-old beer drinkers and their strategy was to create a piece that was visually arresting and unique but spoke to the Budweiser brand. With a sweet narrative of the underdog succeeding, the ad shows how a fluent device can communicate your brand without once showing your product.
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Aflac My Special Aflac Duck Aflac Columbus (2019)

The Aflac Duck is one of America’s most recognised fluent devices for one of the country’s largest insurers. Though a massive contributor to further childhood cancer research and healthcare, Aflac was not recognised for efforts in corporate responsibility on a national scale.

They leveraged the visibility of the iconic Aflac Duck for good when the duck took the form of a social robot to help child cancer patients. This was a smart way to leverage this brand character to tie in with Aflac’s CSR efforts which, in turn, led to an impact on its bottom line. My Aflac Duck contributed to a 2018 total new sales increase of 3.2% for the company.

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Aldi, Kevin the Carrot, McCann Manchester (2018)

Kevin the carrot helped to imbue Aldi with emotion at Christmas, giving people a reason to shop there other than saving money. By doubling down and giving Kevin a girlfriend, the plot thickened… subsequent festive campaigns starred a whole family of carrots. Kevin has been crucial in improving Aldi’s Christmas performance since his debut in 2016 and has helped Aldi win an impressive clutch of effectiveness awards.
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