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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

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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

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FUNNY CHARACTERS, SERIOUS COMMITMENT

Burgess, who has run her advertising firm for 26 years, is a big advocate of mascots. She said she has pitched the idea of mascots to five or six businesses in the past year or so, but finds it’s often a hard sell because of the commitment of time and money a small business must make.

Most of the mascot costumes in this area are designed and made by a mother-daughter business in North Yarmouth, called Commercial Costumes. They sell for about $3,600 to $4,000, and most come with fans in the head and cooling icepack vests.

Then you have to find people to wear the suit, who are willing to swelter in summer, and who have the patience to walk around for hours at a time with limited vision and mobility.

“The vision is not that great, and the head is quite heavy, so you have to get used to balancing with it on,” said Horner, who also works as a bartender at Sea Dog Brewing, and as a hairstylist during the day. “But it’s a lot of fun. You can be a goofball without anyone knowing who you are.”

Teaching people how to behave, and how to be safe, in mascot suits is one purpose of the National Mascot Association, which Jennifer Smith of Avant Garb costume makers in Indianapolis started earlier this year.

She said she saw a “huge” growth in non-sports mascots over the last few years and thought there should be an association in which people could share information and standards. Smith, who makes costumes for mascots all over the country, says she has gotten requests for mascot designs recently from banks, dental supply companies, tech businesses and candy makers.

“There just seems to be so many more events now, trade shows, festivals. If you send a mascot to these events, you get a lot more media attention than if you just send a spokesman,” Smith said.

A MASCOT NEAR YOU

Yarmouth’s recycling committee has an evergreen tree named Will B. Green – Wilby for short – to promote recycling and being green, at parades, the Yarmouth Clam Festival and in schools. The idea was sort of organic, the product of a school contest that asked students to come up with ideas for environmental slogans and emblems.

An elementary school student came up with the idea for Wilby around 2005, and the recycling committee spent years trying to raise the $3,600 needed to buy a professional-grade costume. It succeeded in 2011.

For creating Wilby and using him to promote recycling, Yarmouth won an “eco-Excellence” award in 2012 from ecomaine, the nonprofit, municipally owned waste management company that serves much of southern Maine.

Poland Spring decided to have Eco, its water bottle mascot, created in 2011 specifically for events and for “educational outreach,” said Heather McBean, community relations manager for Poland Spring.

Eco appears at events all over the country, promoting the company’s products and general messages of recycling and environmental awareness. Over Thanksgiving, he was shipped out for a parade in Connecticut.

Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution began using Nickles in 2010 partly to differentiate itself from competitors – not many banks have furry mascots – and partly to reach out to potential customers. After all, every child will probably have a bank account some day.

In October, the bank had Nickles greeting kids at the Maine Mall in South Portland, while the bank sponsored free carousel rides.

“It’s an easily recognizable, interactive connection with potential customers,” said Heather Clark, assistant vice president and marketing officer for the bank and a wearer of the mascot suit. “And people just like mascots.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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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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