December 2, 2013

In Maine and beyond, furry ambassadors are businesses’ best friends

Marketing experts see the value of mascots as a means for savvy companies to stay ahead of the pack.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When Travis Horner wears his dog suit at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in South Portland, you’d think that Norm from “Cheers” had just strolled in.

click image to enlarge

Travis Horner puts on the head as he dresses as Barney the Sea Dog to mingle with patrons at the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in South Portland. When he appears, customers at the bar high-five him, cheer him and ask to have photos taken with him.

John Patriquin/Staff Photogapher

click image to enlarge

Colleen Writt works at a family business called Commercial Costumes in North Yarmouth making mascot costumes for a variety of Maine groups.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

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As soon as Horner appears in the 15-pound costume – with a fan inside the head to make things cooler – customers at the bar high-five him, cheer him and ask to have pictures taken with him.

“Whether it’s adults or children, everyone reacts the same way, with smiles and high fives,” said Horner, 26, who regularly dons the costume of Barney the Great Pyrenees dog, Sea Dog Brewing’s official mascot. “Barney is the face of Sea Dog, and people are just always happy to see him.”

Imagine that, a tool of corporate relations and brand marketing that people are happy to see.

Costumed mascots have long roamed football sidelines and danced at minor league baseball games. Only in the past few years have they popped up all over Maine as ambassadors of small businesses, community groups and even local election campaigns.

Nationally, the boom in non-sports mascots helped prompt the formation this year of the National Mascot Association, a network for a growing industry that includes costume makers, performers and brand marketers.

Businesses and advertising people say that mascots are being used more as business and public relations tools because fuzzy, friendly characters can often connect with potential new customers on an emotional level. They can reach people, especially children and families, in a way that a brochure, a sign or a slogan just can’t.

“What better way to create an emotional connection to a brand than a character?” said Meredith Strang Burgess, of Burgess Advertising and Marketing in Portland. “People don’t remember cold hard facts, they remember personality. And a good mascot, one that’s right for that business, has personality.”

POLITICAL CAMPAIGN IN SCARBOROUGH

In the past three years, Mainers have been introduced to a pack of costumed mascots with personality, promoting everything from banking and bottled water to recycling and skiing.

There’s Nickles, Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution’s St. Bernard; Eco, the water bottle mascot of Poland Spring; Wilby (officially named Will B. Green), the evergreen ambassador of Yarmouth’s town recycling committee; Betty the Yeti, one of two snow monster mascots for the Sunday River ski area; and Sharon and Sayno Scarborough, the canine mascots of the Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough’s campaign to overturn a ban on unleashed dogs on public property. The ban will go before voters in a special election Tuesday.

Sharon and Sayno have been seen around Scarborough lately, standing at busy intersections, imploring voters to “share” Scarborough among all residents, including dogs, and to “say no” to the ban.

The dog group is using mascots in its campaign for many of the reasons that businesses do: to draw attention at events and to get their message in front of people in a fun, non-threatening way.

So if you think about it, mascots are well suited for local political campaigns and might help make them more civil.

“It’s been great for us, because I’ve found it’s really hard for people to be rude to a mascot,” said Katy Foley of Scarborough, a dog owner who has campaigned in one of the costumes. “And I think it relays to people just how dedicated and passionate about the issue you are, if you’re willing to stand out there for hours in a silly dog suit.”

Besides the median strips of Scarborough, some places where you might see mascots this month are holiday parades, tree lightings and open houses. Groups and businesses that want to appeal to kids and families often send their mascots to such family-friendly events. For instance, Nickles, the Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution’s St. Bernard, will march in Saco’s holiday Parade of Lights on Saturday. Baxter, the Maine coon cat mascot of the Maine State Library since 2006, was scheduled to appear at the New Gloucester Public Library’s holiday open house and tree lighting Sunday.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Colleen Writt replaces the eyebrows on a mascot costume undergoing a few repairs at her shop.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

  


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