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Don't Monkey With Your Cuddly Critters, Says Ulster Branding Expert

18 July 2011

University of Ulster professor Stephen Brown has received ringing endorsement from American advertising gurus for telling them how to treat their pet brand mascots.

“Don’t be in a hurry to abandon them,” Professor Brown, an expert on branding at the Ulster Business School (UBS), told the high profile 2011 Consumer-Brand Relationship summit in Orlando, Florida. “Mascots are not just for Christmas.”

He was talking about the cuddly animals that feature in advertising campaigns to popularise products and lodge them in the minds of paying customers.

“Consumers establish strong relationships with brand mascots”, he said, “but managers sometimes fail to appreciate their true value.”

Stephen, who is Professor of Marketing Research at the UBS, won the prize for the most important individual contribution – the Best Paper Award – of some 150 detailed analytical speeches and presentations made during the three-day convention.

His presentation, “Show me the Mascot”, highlighted the importance of iconic brand characters like Aleksandr Orlov of Comparethemarket, Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger and Churchill, the insurance-selling bulldog.  Oh yes!

“Managers, perhaps because they are exposed to the mascot on a daily basis, tend to suffer from ‘critter fatigue’.  They fall out of love with the mascot more quickly than their customers and thereby forget how much is owed to the brand animal.

“But very often, mascots live on in the memories of consumers.  When brand managers ‘rediscover’ them – as they usually do after several years of poor substitutes – the relaunch is welcomed with open arms.  The recent reappearance of the much-loved Dulux sheepdog is a perfect case in point.”

Stephen , who has written 21 books and authored more than 250 acdemic articles, has won numerous accolades in his career, but this latest  “People’s Choice” award is especially noteworthy.

“Unlike most Best Paper prizes, this one was voted for by the conference-goers.  It wasn’t selected by committee or cabal, but by the delegates themselves.

“As participation was fairly evenly split between academics and executives, it’s gratifying to know that my ideas appealed to both groups of attendees.

“More than that, it’s a transatlantic endorsement of the ethos of the Ulster Business School, which strives to span the divide between theory and practice.”

Stephen is a four-time winner of the Academy of Marketing Best Paper prize, the first European to be awarded the Association for Consumer Research Best Paper prize, the recipient of Harvard Business Review’s “Best Breakthrough Idea” for 2002, and, according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he ranks among the world’s top 50 marketing gurus.

This time, though, he insists the Orlando success was a shared achievement, as it could not have happened without the expertise of University technicians.

“The presentation won it for me.  My slide show was the work of the faculty’s Learning Support Centre.  Our audio-visual technicians turned my meagre efforts into a multi-media delight that enthralled the audience.  They’re brilliant.  We’re very lucky to have them. They’re the real people’s choice, in my opinion.”