Social Media Case Studies

Do Brand Characters Help or Hurt Visual Content Marketing on Facebook?

badge-guest-post-FLATTERMarketers and advertisers have relied for decades on brand characters like Tony the Tiger and Mr. Clean to build brand trust and awareness through print, TV and packaging. Today, brand marketers use these same characters in visual content on Facebook in an effort to engage their target audience.

Which poses an interesting question — do brand characters actually help a brand’s visual content marketing efforts on Facebook?

We recently conducted a study of visual content on Facebook in order to answer this question. We used Taggs’ visual content marketing technology to analyze thousands of brand images on Facebook and quantify how some well-known brand characters impact the shareability of owned content.

Hypothesis: Brand Characters Boost Shareability

We hypothesized that Facebook image posts published by brands that include brand characters would have more shares than those image posts without brand characters, with the rationale that brand characters personify brands and will drive action from the followers on the basis of their personality, likeability, and familiarity.

We analyzed brand characters and engagement in Facebook image posts from Charmin, Frosted Flakes, Keebler, M&Ms, Nesquik, Cheetos, Green Giant, Travelocity, Planters, and MetLife. (See the footnotes for methodology.)

How Do The Brand Characters Stack Up in Facebook Engagement?

In short, we found that most brand characters do well but a couple do poorly in engaging their respective Facebook audiences (see graph).

Loved Brand Characters on Facebook

Youth brand characters generally helped boost engagement in visual content: The Nesquick Rabbit (+51% shares compared to the brand’s non-character images), the Keebler Elves (+203% shares), and Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger (+279% shares). These findings were consistent with our original hypothesis.

Of all brands in the study, Charmin achieved the greatest boost in shareability (+585%) when using its characters the Charmin Bears in visual content on Facebook. Mr. Clean was also associated with a solid +182% boost in shareability for the brand. We hypothesize that a significant factor behind the strong success of household goods brand characters could be the lack of alternatives of shareable imagery. Household chores, dirty dishes, or rolls of toilet paper typically don’t make for interesting visual marketing content, so brand characters provide more engaging alternative.

Unloved Brand Characters on Facebook

Two well-known brand characters that correlated with reduced shareability: Green Giant’s Sprout (-16% shares) and Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome (-63% shares). In both of these cases, there was a particular type of content that performed much better than the brand character. For Green Giant, images of delicious looking food resulted in higher share counts. For Travelocity, images of exotic travel locales (absent the Gnome) achieved high share counts.

Some Brands Always Use Their Brand Characters

We found that MetLife (Snoopy and friends) and Planters (Mr. Peanut) always use their brand characters in Facebook images. Therefore we couldn’t benchmark how these brand characters performed relative to content without the character. It is, however, worth noting that these brands rely heavily on their characters as a source for creative and compelling content.

Examples of brand characters in facebook brand images, from Taggs’ web application.

Visual Content Marketing for Facebook Takeaways

Our research led to a few key takeaways that will help you hone your visual content marketing strategy for Facebook, especially if you’re using brand characters.

  • Don’t assume that brand characters (or any other branding element) positively impact Facebook engagement. Take time to consider the key assumptions underlying your content strategy and make it a habit to test your assumptions.

  • Align your brand character with your content goals. We found that brand characters work well with content that personifies an emotion (i.e. humor, patriotism), highlights a holiday (i.e. Easter, Mother’s Day), and accents other relevant cultural or day-to-day activities (i.e. Chester Cheetah taking a selfie on a sunny day).  Be cautious using brand characters in sales-y,  product-centric content like coupons, contests, and promotions.

  • Use brand characters to augment otherwise boring content. Marketers of less-than-exciting products (i.e. toilet paper and cleaning products) can use brand characters to create entertaining, engaging, shareable content.

What are some of the assumptions about your visual content marketing strategy that you’re going to put to the test?


The Research Methods Behind the Madness

We analyzed brand-posted images on the Charmin, Frosted Flakes, Keebler, M&Ms, Nesquik, Cheetos, Green Giant, Travelocity, Planters, and MetLife Facebook Pages between January 1, 2013 and May 31, 2013.  We only analyzed images published to the Timeline.

We used Facebook On-Page Shares as the metric to evaluate the engagement success of image posts.

For each brand image post we indexed, we used Taggs technology to automatically characterize brand images into three buckets: Brand Character Present, No Brand Character Present, and Brand Character Present but Not Central to the Image (i.e., the character appeared on product packaging within an image). We then compared the average shares of images with Character Present against those with No Character Present to quantify the engagement differences.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Very interesting article, Mark, well done!! In my opinion, success depends on more than just having a
    brand character or not – it depends on factors like how fun the
    character is, how brilliantly it fits and supports the brand, how well it resonates with the target audience, and the actual
    design: what it looks like. Is it likable or lovable? What emotions
    does it trigger? Just creating one isn’t enough.

    The Travelocity gnome, for example – it isn’t a bad idea, but the execution of it is very poor. The gnome looks like a silly statue stuck in great photographs, instead of a “humanized” character with personality that people can connect with and enjoy. It has no life to it.

    • says

      Hi Carrie. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I agree. There are many factors to
      consider in the creation and use of any brand asset. Glad our research has
      helped stir up some ideas on the topic. Cheers!

  2. Joe Chengery says

    Thanks for the very informative post! When I seen your infographic and results regarding the different brand characters, I thought perhaps that the Green Giant and the Gnome didn’t appeal to the audience for other reasons. For the Green Giant, my first thought was that perhaps it scared off young kids and parents weren’t all that fond of the character. As for the Gnome, I haven’t found too many people that are particularly fond of the character – most think that’s he annoying.
    That’s a major reason why I agree with Carrie regarding the Gnome – I don’t think Travelocity is optimizing the use of the Gnome; it wouldn’t be a bad idea, as Carrie mentioned, but the “plots” they use in the commercials really don’t add any persuasion or brand power to Travelocity. As mentioned, the commercials really seem to annoy a lot of people and probably why when the Gnome is the main focal point on Facebook images, people tend to avoid sharing those images.
    Certainly, though, your analysis brings up good points regarding both the Green Giant and the Gnome: When you have delicious-looking food and exotic locales to behold on your screen, virtually all other elements are going to take a backseat, including brand characters such as the Green Giant and the Gnome. I definitely think that certain brands can really benefit from a brand character that is used properly, and for that to take place, you have to know what your brand stands for, who your target market is, and how the brand character fits into your brand’s overall strategy so that the brand character will help to provide further social engagement of the brand itself.
    Again, thanks for the very informative post!

  3. Carlos says

    Interesting article, I’m trying to develop one character for my business but I really want it to be special and unforgettable, we sell ios and android apps, and animation videos… any thoughts you might have??

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