“We have to entertain to educate because the other way around doesn’t work.”
So said Walt Disney, one of the most creative minds in history and creator of some of the world’s most beloved and enduring characters. Sophisticated marketers understand that strong creative drives outsized business results, but very few marketers have understood how using characters in creative can boost both brand recognition and sales outcomes.
Exactly how important are characters?
Well, try describing Star Wars without them. All you’re left with are spaceships and light sabers and, as imaginative as these things are, they are only as relevant as they are useful to the characters in the pursuit of good or evil. The characters of Star Wars drive the plot, make the story, and ultimately form the franchise, which has grossed an estimated $65 billion in box offices worldwide.
Characters are an effective creative device for Star Wars or Disney, and characters are also an effective creative device for brands. A recent study in the UK by advertising research firm System1 showed that ads with a character (also known as a fluent device) achieved almost double the brand recognition as ads with no character did. Simply put, when brands used characters in their ads, almost twice as many people remembered the brand. As we know, people can only buy the brands they remember, so brand recognition is key to brand sales. Yet only 5% of ads in the sample featured characters, and in B2B less than 1% of ads featured characters.
This misallocation creates a huge opportunity for CMOs willing to be contrarian and right.
Here are four ways you can use characters in your campaigns to drive marketing effectiveness and efficiency:
1. Animation. Our favorite implementation of B2B characters is through animation, like Salesforce’s Astro and other Trailblazer characters. Animated characters are entirely ownable and unique to your brand, making them prime investment vehicles and distinctive assets.
2. Celebrity. While less ownable, and more subject to PR risks, celebrities can also make for great characters. Just look at HP’s “The Wolf” campaign featuring Christian Slater to advertise their cybersecurity solutions.
3. Employees. Employees – real or fictional – also make for great characters. Progressive’s Flo is one of the most notable examples.
4. Customers. And finally, your own customers can make for great characters since their stories double as case studies. Chase Business Banking leverages one of their customers, Zach and Zoe Sweet Bee Farm, to advertise their small business solutions.
In B2B Edge, the B2B Institute’s brand accelerator program, we work with clients to assess their current creative and identify opportunities to leverage their creative platforms to outperform their competitive set. Reach out to your LinkedIn Marketing Solutions representative to see if you may be eligible for this program.
There has never been a better time for future-focused CMOs to push the boundaries of conventional wisdom in marketing to grow their businesses. To stay connected, follow the B2B Institute on LinkedIn.
And remember, if you want buyers to remember, cast your brand front and center.