By Lindsey Quick
The Need For A Mascot
Mascots are a valuable tool in your marketing arsenal. For many, a mascot creates an opportunity to get involved with the community in a fun way while also creating a channel for the public to recognize and remember a brand over its competitors. The initial investment of purchasing the mascot – whether it be an inflatable stationary version, an inflatable costume, a “furry” costume or even just graphic artwork – can feel steep, but many car washes find that it offers a low-cost opportunity to participate in events that a car wash might not normally have the chance to do.
That’s the case for Mighty Wash in Texas. Their super hero “grime-fighting” mascot, Mighty Maxx, has been like a key that unlocks doors that are usually hard to open. “Kids love Mighty Maxx, so we’re invited to all kinds of events that serve young people, even situations we don’t have much to do with,” said Joe Landin, Marketing and Customer Relations Director at Mighty Wash. “We’ve been able to form multiple partnerships with schools, in a way that allowed us to circumvent the red tape. Very few businesses have that opportunity. Today, with the use of Mighty Maxx, we don’t have to create opportunities for ourselves. They’re created by the simple fact that Mighty Maxx is a part of the community.”
Sometimes a mascot is what brings the customers in. Keith Champagne, Manager of Sparkle Clean Car Wash in New Hampshire, said they originally got a mascot to grab potential customers’ attention as they pass by the wash. Today, it’s Sparkle Clean’s differentiator. “We found that people seemed to only know generics about washes in our area,” Champagne said. “Like ‘the car wash on the hill’ or ‘the wash past the red lights.’ For us, so many people remember us as the car wash with the smiley guy.”
Champagne also said that mascots are a hit on social media. “People, including customers and employees alike, love taking photos of the mascot, whether it’s in a parade, at a charity event or people just stuck in traffic in front of the wash,” he said. “Even our employees get into it. They love to post photos of themselves wearing the costume. All of those photos end up somewhere, and it didn’t cost us a dime!”
Choosing A Mascot
Once the decision is made to incorporate a mascot into your marketing toolkit, there are a few considerations before selecting the specific mascot that will represent your brand.
First, you have to think about what the mascot should be: an animal, a tool, a cartoon character?
Suzanne Huisman, from Blinkie Car Wash in Maaseik, Belgium, had noticed from her trips to the U.S. that a lot of washes were using mascots, and the idea appealed to her and her father. It took some time to decide what would be the right fit for their business. “We were going back and forth for months about what it should be, wanting to ensure it fit our brand but was also unique,” she said. “During a trip to The Car Wash Show in Nashville in 2016, we noticed armadillos in the area. We like the idea of the visual of an armadillo, and we also knew that since armadillos don’t live in our country, we were sure we had a unique animal.” To get their customers excited about the new mascot, Suzanne and her dad decided to let their customers submit ideas for the mascot’s name, and in the end, they selected BlinkieBink.
For better or for worse, not all car washes get to select their own mascots – some are inherited after an acquisition. “We’ve been using our mascot, Quackals, since 2008 when we acquired Quick Quack, but the mascot had been with the original owner since 1999,” said Travis Kimball, Chief Marketing Officer at Quick Quack Car Wash in California. While the team had considered changing Quackal’s name, they found that the name added to the fun and personality of the brand, and decided to stick with it.
After you’ve gone through the work of deciding you want a mascot and settling on your character, you have to decide how to bring that mascot to life. Each option comes with its own level of investment and marketing opportunities.
Beth Martin, Marketing Director at Express Wash Concept in Ohio (the parent company of Flying Express Car Wash, Moo Moo Express Car Wash and Clean Express Auto Wash), shared that their organization started with an inflatable mascot because of its cartoon-like appearance and because it seemed more unique than the traditional “furry” mascots. Inflatable mascots are also considerably cheaper. While the inflatable mascot was a hit, the organization eventually decided that a furry mascot would open the door to more opportunities, including in-person appearances at events like parades, professional sporting events and more, so they added a furry costume to their collection. “An inflatable suit can be anywhere from two to three thousand dollars, while a high quality furry mascot can range from five to eight thousand dollars,” said Martin. “Although that initial investment might be steep, no matter which route you go, it’s ultimately well worth it. Mascots bring your brand to life and can be one of the most powerful forms of marketing your business.”
Martin also suggested finding the right vendor to help you create the mascot, stressing the importance of finding one who will take the time to work through the design process and stand by the quality of their finished product. Plus, be realistic about timeframes. “Realize that the process from conception to delivery might take anywhere from four to eight weeks,” she said.
Some businesses prefer to start with a more simplistic approach and opt-out of investing in a physical mascot in the beginning. Huisman at Blinkie Car Wash chose to have BlinkieBink the armadillo created as a graphic logo rather than a costume. Although the investment and maintenance are lower, there are still challenges. For Huisman, it’s been keeping the design up to date and present in everything they do. “It was a search to find a designer who could draw what we were thinking, and is a continuous resource to change him for every holiday and promo,” Huisman said. “When you choose your mascot, you have to stick to it.” While Huisman has been happy with the reception BlinkieBink has gotten, she said they are researching vendors to have a full costume created in order to participate in community events.
Sarah Parker Masse, Brand and Marketing Manager at Camel Express Car Wash in Tennessee had the following advice for those considering adding a mascot to their marketing plans: “Consider the relevance of your character in your geographic location and any possible conflicts with beloved sports team,” she said. “And pay close attention to the facial expression of your mascot – getting that just right is a process!”
Anne Mauler, Vice President of Marketing for Soapy Joe’s in California, recommended that when choosing a mascot, businesses should stay true to their values. “Two of our core values at Soapy Joe’s are to create fans and build community,” she said. “Our mascot, Soapy, helps personify these values in a friendly, approachable character. You want customers to see your mascot as an authentic extension of your business.”
Making the mascot investment is a big decision. While mascots can be incredibly valuable to their brands, they can also be frustrating and challenging. In addition to the initial investment, companies need to be prepared to clean, maintain and update their mascots.
“The mascots, due to their nature, experience wear and tear, so you have to be diligent in keeping them clean and in good working order,” said Martin. “It’s also important to point out that they can be hot to wear for extended periods of time, especially in warm weather, and movement can be pretty restricted.”
Kimball echoed these same sentiments. “Mascot suits are very difficult to keep clean,” he said. “We’ve learned to expect to pay much more for quality costumes and budget extra dollars for professional cleanings.” Also, the suits can also be incredibly hot and uncomfortable for the people who wear them. “We’ve learned to be brutally honest when hiring members to become mascots,” said Kimball. That helps to alleviate surprises when the person steps into the suit for a long parade on a hot day.
Despite these challenges, mascots can be game-changers for their organizations. Parker Mass at Camel Express Car Wash said, “It’s become standard that our brand voice is channeled through our mascot, Clyde the Camel. He provides an anchor to everything we do in terms of marketing.”
Whether a mascot has wings, horns or hooves, they all have one thing in common: Mascots appeal to customers of all ages – adults and kids alike.
“Customers and employees love Soapy,” said Mauler. “We draw a crowd whether Soapy is dancing with a fan, high-fiving young kids or just generally ‘bubbling up’ fun.”
“Whether it is adults honking as they drive by while the mascot is out waving or kids wanting to take pictures with it wherever they see it, the feedback is always 100% positive,” said Champagne.
“It’s a pretty incredible feeling to be at a community event where kids and adults are screaming your mascot’s name and taking photos with it,” said Martin.
“No matter what kind of event we’re at, and no matter if it’s kids or adults, everyone wants to high-five Mighty Maxx,” said Landin.
Car washes from around the globe have found mascots to be a valuable marketing tool for their business, despite the minor challenges. From attending community events to seeing their photos posted on customer and employee social media accounts, the brand recognition a mascot provides is immeasurable.