Of mascots and animal magnetism

CHITRA NARAYANAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on May 10, 2012



Wherever you go the furry creatures follow. It's not just Vodafone that has discovered the safest and surest way to bump up brand equity. Go on to Facebook and you can't escape stories about Beast, Mark Zuckerberg's Hungarian sheepdog.

The geeky Facebook founder has a pretty shrewd idea of people's pulse and so every little move of his pet, whether he is sticking his head out of the car window or gambolling around the kitchen, is posted. And yes, thousands follow Beast's progress with great interest. He not only has his independent page with legions of followers, but occupies prime position on Zuckerberg's timeline.

The world does rather swoon and go misty-eyed when it comes to dogs and kittens and other animals. Why, two days ago, I found my own editor, who confesses to being scared of dogs, busy posting links about a large Irish setter-like dog.

Riding on cute, friendly creatures has paid off for many. Look how a pug has ensured everlasting brand recall for Vodafone. See how a mouse has made millions, if not zillions, for Walt Disney. Why, it's even earned fame and money for the owner of Boo, the tiny little Pomeranian, who has over two million fans on Facebook. Boo has even got a book deal for himself. On YouTube it is the male Scottish Fold cat from Japan, Maru, who gets all the eyeballs with his strange antics.

Contrast this with the London Olympics. There's less than three months to go and the alien-looking mascots Wenlock and Mandeville's Facebook page has a mere 190 likes and – oh dear! – barely eight people are talking about it on social media. And mind you, these are mascots unveiled a good year and a half ago. So they have had ample time to climb their way into people's hearts – especially in this connected age where every time Pippa's derriere comes into view, it gets talked about all over the world.

My friends and colleagues are pretty well up on the British royals and their relatives but when I asked them to name the mascot for this Olympics all I got was a glazed look. Wenlock and Mandeville have just not climbed into the rest of the world's consciousness as did the sausage-dog Waldi, one of the all-time favourite Olympic mascots. Even the Russians broke ice with their Misha, and so did Uncle Sam's eagle.

Steel doodads

In Britain, the mascot merchandise might be selling like hot cakes now. But when the country unveiled the two drops of steel with cameras for eyes to parade as the Games' mascot, most people promptly said that it tied with Izzy (of Atlanta fame) as the worst ever mascot.

To my mind, the Brits have blundered by not going with a safe and sure animal mascot. Perhaps they should have stuck to their Lion or even the Bull Dog. They have a good thing going with those. So why not use them?

But then again, we have lost the ability to keep things simple. A plain and simple factor like the ability to tug at hearts is no more the sole criterion in the choice of a mascot today. First, there's the need to be politically correct. A lion could no doubt have been seen as being imperialist. And the Bull Dog has been appropriated by the US Marines as their mascot – so it probably won't do. Foxes and Badgers – well, who knows what the animal activists will say? There are also sensitivities and messages to be pushed out through the mascot.

With a techno age mascot like Wenlock (named after village Much Wenlock in Shropshire) and Mandeville, Britain says it is letting the world know that it has arrived in this digital age. And they have cooked up a story on the birth of these one-eyed steel creatures.

Apparently, at the steelworks of Bolton, where they are finishing the last girder for the Olympic stadium, two drops of molten steel fall off and on cooling, are picked up by a man named George. He takes them home and crafts these characters to gift them to his grandchildren. There's a lot of soppy stuff after that to the story.

But then, if these creatures are really digital age, shouldn't the story have space age stuff and cyber births rather than this fairy tale straight out of a medieval age?

And if at all they had to go to Shropshire to find a mascot, why not stick to the enchanting sow, the most endearing character to have been born in Britain – the one and only Empress of Blandings. But then they didn't consult Plum's fans!

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Published on May 10, 2012
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