What do Mrs. Butterworth’s, the Vlasic Stork and the M&M characters have in common?

They are the beloved faces, voices and personalities behind popular product brands.

Using a spokescreature in place of a human spokesperson to advance and promote a product or service has many built-in benefits. There are, of course, the obvious advantages: Spokescreatures can work 24/7, don’t have agents, and are often cute and cuddly. They do not need dressing rooms, demand expensive lunches or display a desire to revise your press releases.

More importantly, however, are the marketing benefits that they bring with them. Spokescharacters have the capacity to transcend the earthly bonds that constrain we mere mortals. Once popularized, they drift easily into popular culture, appearing in cameo roles on television and in the movies. They become the subject of late night talk show chatter, popular music refrains, and social media conversations. Simply put, the spokescreature is a marketing multi-tasker.

To recognize their incredible feats, Advertising Week hosts its annual Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame – the advertising industry’s equivalent of Hollywood and Vine. This year, the witty, cigar-wielding Vlasic Stork was part of the induction ceremony. Selected by millions of public votes, the inductees truly represent the advertising images that have won the hearts of American consumers.

Executive director of Advertising Week, Matt Scheckner, explains the Walk of Fame this way: “Advertising has become such a huge part of American culture, and consumers really identify with these icons. It’s truly amazing the creativity and intelligence that goes into the creation of these icons and slogans that become the face of their respective brands.”

So, what makes an icon, well, an icon in today’s cluttered media landscape?

Today, successful, iconic brands effectively embrace social media as a way to develop direct relationships with consumers, opening the lines of communication between the customer and the famed spokescreature. In the “old days,” brand communication was one sided, where the character would appear in print ads and TV commercials, offering little opportunity for customers to talk back.

Today, the Vlasic Stork is one of many personalities on Twitter and Facebook enjoying everyday interactions with the consumers who are seeking a closer, more personal relationship with the brands they love.

The Stork has some help from Digital Park, the online and social media division of rbb Public Relations. rbb also helps Mrs. Butterworth’s keep in touch with her friends online, too, as well as Lewis the Duck of Homewood Suites. So the digital experts at rbb know a thing or two about delivering brand strengths through popular spokescreatures.

We believe brand interaction on social media is about building relationships, which we do through genuine engagement and two-way communication. Fortunately for them, the Vlasic Stork, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Lewis the Duck all have a lot of friends online, with whom they enjoy daily conversations. Mrs. Butterworth’s laughs, shares recipes and responds to direct inquiries. She’s a relatively tech-savvy lady! The Stork delivers his classic deadpan humor and commentary on current events, as well as his favorite burger recipes to his more than 60,000 Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Lewis quacks about the friends he makes along his travels. On the surface, it may all seem like good fun, but there’s much more to it than that. These conversations can achieve lofty marketing goals by:

  • Building brand loyalty and maintaining top-of-mind awareness. If you’ve just chatted with Mrs. Butterworth’s on Facebook, you’re more likely to choose her syrup next time you shop.
  • Driving product trial and discovery. By following the Vlasic Stork, you’ve now learned Vlasic is offering a reduced-sodium product.
  • Cultivating brand ambassadors. Remember the old hair commercial? If you tell two friends, then they tell two friends, and so on and so on. Several studies confirm that peer recommendations influence buyers’ decisions more than any other form of advertising.

Digital Park offers these Six Rules for Social Media Spokescreatures for digital marketers who are looking to manage the online conversations and communities of brand spokespeople, or creatures.

  1. Stay true to the brand. The spokescreature is effective when it is intrinsically and positively associated with the brand. He may have his own distinct personality, but is ultimately a representation of the brand and should deliver the brand promise in an authentic and consistent way.
  2. Set the tone. The personality profile must be defined from the start. A fully developed character profile will determine the voice, personality and other traits of your character. It may list famous actors or TV personalities from whom to draw inspiration. It may detail the character’s hobbies, interests, personal style. Ultimately, the profile will guide all of the detail from which the rest of the content will flow. Determine at the outset your content and engagement strategy (this applies not only to spokescreatures but all social media efforts). What will be the posting frequency? How much will the character engage in dialog? On what topics? What types of content will be shared? Will fan content be encouraged? All of this should be set in advance in keeping with the icon’s profile.
  3. Stay in character. Social media updates and responses should be consistently written in the spokescreature’s point of view, and it should convey his unique personality, in keeping with the archetype and profile. To this end you may want to assign a committee to review ongoing copy against the personality profile. One person can’t do it all, but one writer may be best suited for creating the original content – the way a gifted actor can truly and convincingly embody a fictitious role. The important thing here is to sustain the fan’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” People need to feel the vibe of the character to run with it; to believe, at some level, that it really is that famous icon on the other side of the conversation, typing away at them. Any deviation from the character will ruin the fun.
  4. Talk back. It’s a conversation. Social media by nature is social. It can’t just be about delivering messages. Yes, the spokesperson has to deliver the brand and stay in character, and he has to do it while having a dialog with the fans. This is what makes the social spokescreature special. Fans can have a one-on-one experience with the brand like never before.
  5. When not to talk. Staying in character sometimes means staying silent. There will inevitably be critics, and depending on the content, you may be better off letting the community come to your defense. If you have nurtured a loyal following, you’ll be surprised how protective they can be. Additionally, in some cases we recommend setting up a customer service account to respond to specific types of customer service inquiries. Product problems, refunds, returns — these terms are usually not in the vernacular of the character or spokescreature. He/she delivers a broad brand experience, not necessarily dealing with individual inquiries. It’s not likely to be accomplished while staying in character. Often, we’ll have the icon refer specific problems to the “front office” for handling. However, it’s very important to make sure the problem is addressed in a timely manner, even if that means referring it to another department.
  6. Stay in sync. The marketing channels need to be integrated. The social media presence of the spokesperson should be in step with the creative direction, website, advertising, media messaging, in-store displays, direct communications and every brand/consumer connection. Like the rest of marketing, avoid silos in order to create a cohesive customer experience.

Your brand spokescreature may be the best asset your brand has. He or she has a voice and personality that people can relate to. By clicking “Like,” posting comments or tweeting messages, consumers have demonstrated they do want to interact with brands online, especially with a beloved character. And, if managed effectively, social media makes a personal relationship a reality in a way that was never before possible.