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Cartoon CultureIdeas/Commentary

How Porter Airlines Bucks the Trend With an Animated Mascot

Porter, a regional Canadian airline, has quietly built a unique brand through print and animated ads featuring a jet-setting raccoon named Mr. Porter. I recently flew with Porter for the first time and was blown away by the entire experience; not only are their lounge areas filled with WiFi, free espresso and shortbread cookies, but TV screens display animated clips of Mr. Porter, flying from city-to-city, occasionally stopping to give the weather forecast before picking up his suitcase and heading to another destination.

Mr. Porter debuted in 2006, the work of London-based branding and design agency Winkreative. The graphic, black and white raccoon was just one part of a larger branding identity created to evoke the carefree feeling of retro air travel. Now, Mr. Porter is inseparable from the brand, showing up on the company’s brochures, water bottle labels and in-flight meal boxes. “Raccoons are intelligent, adaptable creatures that succeed in a variety of environments and unfavorable conditions, so our mascot choice was no accident,” said Porter founder and CEO Robert Deluce.

Porter is going against a trend afflicting many major brands; logos and mascots are becoming more and more reductive and impersonal. American Airlines, for example, has slowly transformed its eagle from a stylized illustration to an implied, decorative swoop. Similarly, the Quantas Kangaroo has become almost unrecognizable.

Mascots, whether realistic or graphic in style, definitely matter. When American Airlines recently retired its famous logo that was designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1967, Vignelli revealed that the company wanted a stylized eagle, something he was against—he believed that the eagle should be detailed down to the last feather. “I refused to do it. We started without it, and the pilots threatened to go on strike because they wanted the eagle on American Airlines,” Vignelli told Businessweek.

So why are so many companies shying away from punchy mascots that make a statement?  Perhaps they’re afraid that a personality-driven character makes it more difficult to control a company’s message. Yet in embracing Mr. Porter, Deluce has created a stronger sense of the company’s goals, even among employees, saying, “Everyone at Porter has a clear understanding of the brand.” Mr. Porter is intriguing, mysterious and charming, three very dynamic adjectives that could never be applied to the American Airlines eagle-turned-swoop.

  • WJ

    I’ll be flying Porter next week, and have done so a few times in the past as well; it’s always been a very nice travelling experience with no stress. I certainly find their marketing take refreshing and appealing!

  • Funkybat

    The animation looks pretty smooth, they seem to be going for a simplified 60s style a la “Catch Me If You Can.” However, something about it seems just a bit plain, almost as if whatever exaggeration actual 60s-era designs like this had were removed. Overall, the ad is well-executed and it is nice to see an anthropomorphic character mascot who is actually shown doing things instead of being a frozen statute or icon.

    I think character mascots work for some businesses and some industries, and not for others. For consumer-oriented businesses that depend on projecting a friendly, comfortable image, I think they are a good idea. Why so many businesses have gone the way of gradient-heavy, meaningless shapes is beyond me. The new AA logo is simply terrible, but then, so is AA, so I guess that’s just truth in advertising.

  • mick

    The trend away from character logos is two fold. 1) for some reason there is a move towards graphic design as an end in itself (in it’s most banal realisation). 2) There is an air of ‘take this seriously’ permeating almost every aspect of business. A line has been drawn in the sand, on one side is cold hard cash and on the other is humour/ warmth/ personality.

    The example that should be noted is how Tony the Tiger has made millions simply by virtue of his possessing a personality. Without Tony, Frosties would be cornflakes for people who can’t handle reality, with Tony, they’re greeeeeeeeeeeeeat!

  • Michael Fox

    The ad pretty much shows you what Porter is and the raccoon there is a good character to illustrate the airline with. It draws peoples’ attention without being outlandish and could make Porter into a popular name.

  • I really like that they are going for a more personality driven brand but I’m not sure about the choice of a raccoon. They’re somewhat thought of as tricksters, rummagers and thieves with their eye masks. Not an image I think an airline would want. But maybe Porter will change those perceptions. It sounds like a nice airline.

  • Tony

    Liked the Porter ad, especially how the animators managed to convey personality with body movement alone, not changing the expression except for the wink at the end.

    The new AA logo is too abstract for my taste. It reminds me of the USPS logo, except in that one you can still make out that it’s an eagle. The previous logo had just the right balance of abstraction and figurative representation.

  • kelseigh

    I recall a time (early 80’s, I think, may have gone back well into the 70’s) when Quantas actually did have a mascot in their print ads, a rather cynical koala. I used to go through old National Geographics just looking for the Quantas ads, to see what witticism the koala would be spouting next.

    Clearly this was in tandem with the kangaroo logos, rather than instead of.

  • CG Animator

    Very nice commercial! This airline reminds me a lot of Virgin America…. who also happen to have some very nice animated in-flight fare! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx3aotNvlHs