Mascots: Old & Corny or New & Timely?

Leo York
2 min readJul 26, 2021


Mascots have become an unpopular choice of copy these days. They are associated with the previous century, with unscrupulous attempts to market to children, and with a laziness that is unbecoming of the modern, cynical consumer.

But many of those older mascots are still around, and flourishing. Colonel Sanders has become such a global zeitgeist figure future anthropologists may conclude he was a popular deity. Charlie the Tuna, Tony the Tiger, and the Marlboro Man (all creations of Leo Burnett, a personal hero) are still around and still responsible for huge increases in brand awareness.

The Marlboro Man story is a personal favorite and one I often relate when discussing the importance of good copy. In the early 50’s women began to put down cigarettes. Pop culture had dictated it an unladylike habit, and prescribed amphetamines were becoming women’s favorite drug. Marlboro up to that point had been a women’s brand.

They were hemorrhaging money. They turned to Leo Burnett to provide a solution, and he did so with a cowboy concept. Draper Daniels, the inspiration for Don Draper from Mad Men, had come across a cowboy at Quarter Circle 5 Ranch in Wyoming. Leo’s concept and Draper’s new acquaintance were just the necessary impetus for marketing alchemy: The Marlboro Man turned up in magazines and physical ads such as billboards all year.

And nothing happened.

They were still losing money. They called Leo in. He explained that it would take time for the brand to be altered and they needed to keep at it.

They did.

Not long after that fateful meeting, Marlboro went from holding only one percent market share to the fourth bestselling brand in America. Today, one in 3 cigarettes smoked the world over is a Marlboro.

The Marlboro man has become a pop culture icon of Americana. But despite being something of a relic, mascots are still quite popular. Several mascots still create immediate recognition and humanization of modern brands. The Geico Gecko, Captain Obvious for, and Nyango Star (pictured above) are just a few examples. Flo from Progressive does a remarkable job of giving the company a relatable face while providing exposition on why their insurance is appealing.

If your brand has a broad consumer base, and little in the way of human representation, a mascot can be the difference between being iconic, and being forgettable.