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Binomial is an innovation consulting firm helping clients be disruption-ready
March 1, 2022
Mascots have been commonly used in branding, particularly in team sports such as basketball, baseball and rugby. They have also been a key part of the Olympic games since 1968. The Olympic mascot represents the Olympic spirit and reflects the host city’s history and culture. For every Olympic game, there will be a new mascot(s). However, not all mascots are well-received by the audiences. Take the Tokyo 2020 Olympic mascot for example, Miraitowa and Someity were not as favoured by the people. Their names were too hard to remember, even for locals, and the checkered design of the mascots tends to blend in with the backdrop of the Games, making it difficult for the mascots to stand out visually during the Games. The Rio 2016 Olympic mascot, Vinicius also received some backlash on what it was supposed to represent. It was unclear if the mascot represents a cat or a monkey and was subsequently revealed that it is a combination of all the Brazilian animals.
From a branding perspective, Olympic mascots become a hit when they can resonate and connect emotionally with the audience. Successful Olympic mascots also help finance the Games through merchandising and licensing deals. The Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, the mascot Bing Dwen Dwen has been a massive success in China. Let’s look at what contributed to its success and what we can learn from it.
#1 Connection with audience
The Olympic mascot serves to personify the Games, it is the element of identity and connector between the Games and audience, making it easier for people to relate and build an emotional connection with the Games. Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 mascot is a panda wearing a transparent snow suit. According to the official Olympics website, “Bing” has several meanings in Mandarin, though the most common is ice. The word can also symbolize purity and strength. “Dwen Dwen” means robust and lively, and is also a Chinese moniker for children. To the native Chinese, “Bing Dwen Dwen” is an easy-to-remember name that rolls off their tongue.
The design of Bing Dwen Dwen was inspired from “tanghulu”, hawthorn with a clear candy coating, which is one of China’s traditional snacks. The hawthorn candy was replaced by a panda during further reiterations of the design, while keeping the clear candy-coating concept. The choice of panda proved to be a smart move as the Chinese citizens are familiar with it being the country’s national animal. The panda was also well-received as one of the mascots in the Beijing 2008 Olympics. This made it easier for them to build a connection and relate to the mascot.
Additionally, effective marketing strategies were deployed to attract locals’ attention. Use of social media platforms such as Douyin (what TikTok is known as in China) and streaming technologies helped the mascot go viral and raised the hype over the Winter Olympics season. There was also live commerce to attract and boost sales of the mascot merchandise.
Apart from its growing popularity in China, Bing Dwen Dwen also gained some fans abroad, particularly in East Asia. The Japanese media jumped in on the craze over Bing Dwen Dwen due to its exceptionally cute design. The panda was designed as a baby panda instead of an adult panda, when the design team realized that baby pandas have a different proportion that makes them appear cuter next to adult pandas. This proved to be a win with the Japanese as Bing Dwen Dwen merchandise are running out of stock in Japan, and people are beginning to sell them at marked up prices on second-hand trading websites. A Japanese TV reporter was also spotted wearing 6 badges of the mascot and joked about bringing a luggage of the merchandise back to Japan.
Despite its success, one must remember to consider the smallest details in branding to prevent backfiring. At one point, Bing Dwen Dwen spoke during a livestream in China and viewers were distraught that it was the voice of a middle-aged man, instead of the cute, child-like character it was portrayed. The misalignment between what the audience were led to believe and what they were given resulted in outrage from fans. As a result, there is additional effort to ensure the mascot does not speak thereafter. There must be care to align all aspects of the brand messaging to build up the emotional connection with the audience.
While Bing Dwen Dwen did not gain as much popularity with the Western audience, it did well in China and East Asia. Through a deep understanding of the Chinese audience and knowing what matters to them, the organizing committee succeeded in personifying the Games and building a connection with the audience.
A localization approach should be adopted whenever companies or brands are looking to expand into a new market to increase the rates of success, not forgetting a marketing strategy strategically targeted at the new consumer segment. Different geographic segments and consumer groups have their own unique way of marketing, and it is important to factor this into consideration as it could be your brand’s make or break moment. For example, live commerce might not work in western countries, and will not be an effective marketing tool for your brand. It is important to consider what your target audience is receptive towards.
#2 Brand messaging to connect with the country’s brand
China wants to be known as a technology force and they have tried to showcase their achievements in technology during the Winter Olympics. From 5G technology to the full adoption of cloud technology and even a smart bed technology in the athletes' village, which includes a "zero-G" mode that can help athletes improve blood circulation and accelerate recovery from a hard training course, the Winter Olympics was a display of the latest technologies. Technology advancement was also emphasized on the mascot. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Bing Dwen Dwen’s full body ice suit resembles an astronaut suit, constituting a “tribute to embracing new technologies for a future with infinite possibilities' '. The bright colours of the halo around its face are also a representation of the latest advanced technologies of the ice and snow sport tracks at the Games. Technology was also adopted rapidly in their marketing channels. Live broadcast of the Games was available worldwide and a Bing Dwen Dwen camera filter was quickly made available on Douyin once the Games had started, and gained popularity rapidly.
Through these, China sought to reinforce its aspiration of being a technology-driven country. Similar for brands, consistent messaging will help consumers and investors understand what the brand stands for. This helps breed trust and build brand loyalty among consumers. You can learn more about building brand loyalty among consumers in a separate article we wrote here.
Ultimately, branding is not just about your logo or design, there are other elements and touch points to ensure you bring the brand to life. Mascots are a way to personify your brand, to help you establish an emotional connection with your audience. After you create your mascot, be sure to drive it through all your marketing platforms.
If you are interested to learn about other branding case studies, you can look at our other article on branding lessons from Game of Thrones.
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