Can You Change the Message But Keep the Mascot?

In a post we did last week, about when a brand should change its mascot, we referenced a quote from Toniq MD Cheryl Swanson, who said McD’s might want to take a look at the Ronald McDonald and determine whether it’s “still meaningful or a throwback to the last century.”

In the comments section, shmaraksmpr asked if, in Swanson’s comments, there “was any mention of whether or not the spokesperson could stay the same but the messaging were different.” We took the question to Swanson, and her email response is after the jump.

…The short answer is NO! In reality, if a lot of money is pumped into new mascot messaging, then it might be possible…but the reason for mascots is to tell a specific story and represent that story instantly, symbolically and visually over time. For Ronald, it’s Happiness for Kids through McD’s core menu items (burgers, fries, shakes)…it’s not health and wellness. He has been solidly identified with and has huge equity in the core McDonald’s fare…and this equity is hard to change. Change is hard to do in an authentic, true way for any mascot that has entrenched equity in a specific story and an identity grounded in specific products. People have a strong BS meter, so changing the story can be perceived as inauthentic and could denigrate the brand the mascot represents.  Think about other mascots and it becomes apparent that they are known for specific, defined messages that rarely (if ever) change:

Can Mr. Clean go green? His equity is in “strength” and “efficacy” and green is perceived as not as effective, so probably not.

Can Snap, Crackle and Pop represent anything other than Rice Krispies? Or Tony the Tiger representing something other than the GREATNESS of Frosted Flakes?

The Aflac Duck is all about protection in the event that “you’re hurt and can’t work”…This and the other messages would be hard to change with the authenticity needed to be credible to consumers.

Thanks Cheryl. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and on @PRNewser.