A Brand’s Best Friend?

Looking for a brand spokesperson that’s instantly appealing and memorable to virtually anyone? Someone who won’t demand an exorbitant fee or cause trouble away from the camera? Instead of thinking about TV/movie stars or sports celebrities, you might want to consider a figure with fur, claws, or hooves.

For decades, animals (live and animated) have proven to be highly effective brand ambassadors. Many household-name brands are virtually inseparable from their canine, feline, bovine, or otherwise non-human representatives. How can one purchase Energizer batteries without once thinking about the bunny? Or hear “AFLAC!” without also hearing the duck in your head? Or enjoy a Chik-fil-A sandwich without wondering about the cows?

Too often marketers regard animals as simply mascots that attract attention but lack the gravity or purpose to meaningfully support a brand. However, many animals naturally have strong qualities and/or evoke emotions and qualities highly desirable by brands. The MGM lion (strength), the Ferrari prancing horse (speed and grace), the Swarovski swan (beauty), the Red Bull twin bulls (action and impact), and The Hartford buck (nobility and dependability) all convey admirable traits that companies want customers to see in their products.

Here are several compelling reasons to consider an animal as a potential brand fixture.

1. Just about everyone likes animals
Nearly 70% of all households in North America have a dog or a cat as a pet. A UK research study found that approximately 15% of the population actually care more about their pets than their spouses or significant others. Millennials and Generation Z are far more likely than previous generations to forego children in favor of having pets— and to treat them in ways traditionally reserved for children (wheeling them around in strollers, bringing them into restaurants as diners, keeping them in daycare centers, etc.). In short, household pets are increasingly seen as integral members of a family and are valued as such.

2. It’s easy to project human qualities onto animals
As mentioned above, many animals immediately convey specific human-like behaviors by their natural actions. When dogs pant or wag their tails, we naturally see them as smiling and/or happy. When cats rub themselves against their owners, we see them as affectionate. Humans, on the other hand, typically need to be purposefully directed and strategically portrayed in order to communicate the qualities aligning with a brand’s selling attributes. There’s actually less work involved in bringing out what is appealing about an animal than there is with a person.

3. Diversity complications are set aside with animals
As admirable as it is for marketers today to champion wider representation and inclusion among all communities, it’s still difficult to settle on a brand spokesperson without at least some questions about the selection. Why a man instead of a woman or vice versa? Why a Black person and not a Hispanic individual? How come a differently abled person wasn’t given this opportunity? At the same time, if a marketer attempts to show a range of skin color, ethnicities, sexual identification, ages, and more in its branding, it can often be seen as shameless pandering.

With an animal, these pressures by and large disappear. We rarely see differences in animals through the same lens as we do with people. Of course, the way an animal is presented or voiced can be directed to represent certain segments of society, but any marketer with an ounce of common sense can figure out how far to safely proceed.

4. Animals don’t behave in the real world in ways that threaten a brand
How many times has a prominent brand hired—and then had to fire or distance themselves from—a celebrity spokesperson who engaged in regrettable behavior or rhetoric? Off camera, animals simply don’t engage in controversial acts, say offensive things, or have shocking skeletons in their closet. They can pretty much be counted on to spare the companies they represent any kind of embarrassment.

Animals naturally convey traits that humans like. They can be walking, talking (at least the animated ones) brand vehicles that aren’t immediately viewed with suspicion or cynicism. No matter what human qualities we project onto an animal, we can’t help but recognize the purity and innocence they represent. All in all, there’s nothing Mickey Mouse in thinking about how an animal can be a valuable representation of a brand.