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Mascot Makeovers: Good or Bad?

I was at my local Target the other day, and as I was passing down the cereal aisle, I came across this. General Mills is doing a “retro” promotion for its more popular cereals, like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs, complete with the old designs of their mascots on the boxes.

There’s something undeniably charming about some of these old designs. Although seemingly crude on the surface, the simplicity of it all, from the geometric-like bodies down to the poses the characters are standing in make them more iconic than their current Disney-like proportioned, iris-eyed incarnations. And seeing them literally side by side on store shelves made it all the more jarring to me.

Nearly all advertising mascots have changed over the years: Tony the Tiger, the Vlasic Pickle stork, Scrubbing Bubbles, even a design so deceivingly simple as the Kool-Aid Man has had an overhaul:

Of course, most of these character’s designs evolved over the course of a few decades. Watch a Trix Rabbit commercial from the early 1960s and compare it to one from the 1970s, 80s, 90s and today, and you’ll notice how gradual the changes have been over the course of half a century. Larger commercial budgets, different ad agencies and animation studios, as well as graphic trends and the advent of digital animation have been contributing factors to these alterations.

A lot of characters, like the Keebler Elves and Toucan Sam, have even made the big leap from 2D to 3D. While many people have collectively poo-pooed the CG makeovers of some of these classic characters, I personally find that most of them still retain their traditional charm. Take this new Froot Loops commercial for example:

Some makeovers are a bit harder to digest:

But in this day and age, we seem to be embracing the past more than ever. Childhood nostalgia has become a new marketing strategy for advertising companies, and consumers are eating it up (no pun intended). Why else would General Mills revert to utilizing these vintage designs on their boxes? Some companies are even “re-aging” their mascots, making them look like their former selves, while still refurbishing them for the 21st century.

Who’s your favorite advertising mascot and what do you think of their modern makeovers? Share your thoughts!

  • Roberto Severino

    I really loved the Sonny the Cuckoo Bird commercials that Grim Natwick animated on and also loved it when cereals would be able to advertise themselves on programs like Huckleberry Hound and Rocky and Bullwinkle. Obviously they can’t do that anymore for several reasons.

    I think the companies behind the mascots could do a much better job of making their characters look aesthetically appealing. I was never that big of a fan of the whole airbrushed look. It should say a lot about how we’re still talking about these older designs many decades later.

  • Jason Cezar Duncan

    In all honesty, I’ve never had a big problem with crude and rough looking designs/animation if it fits the characters. I love watching pilot episodes and early first seasons of animated TV shows to see how rough the animation looks compared to the polished up later seasons. Granted these are cereal mascots, I actually find the rough early designs to look more appealing than the lot of the newer “airbrushed” designs. Especially the old Hawaiian Punch guy. Something about it says artist and style over corporate and bland.

  • Santiago Casares

    That Kool-Aid Man revision is hideous!

    • James Fox

      The new version of Punchy is worse!

    • I don’t know what new body area his pants are covering.

  • Marbles471

    I’m of mixed mind. Honestly, at this point many of the “new” designs for these characters have long, long outlasted the “classic” versions. The Trix Rabbit has looked and sounded pretty much the same since the 1970s, for example, and I think Tony the Tiger and most of the other familiar ones have, too. So at this point it’s a bit misleading to label the earliest versions “classic” since they pale against so many years of later tradition.
    The character who off the top of my head has gone through the most transformation in my lifetime (I’m 30), is Lucky the Leprechaun, who in the late 1980s still bore some of the hallmarks of his earliest version. During the 90s he became more “Disneyfied” for lack of a better word. Sonny the Coco Puffs bird is a different case—-they’ve recently “retro-ized” him into something closer to his original self than the tamer, Disneyfied, bright-eyed version that had been evolving since the 80s. It’s odd for me to see since I never grew up with that version.
    Snap, Crackle n’ Pop have been continually redesigned on probably a more regular basis than anyone else, seeming to change subtly every few years depending on the animation studio in charge at the time, but for many decades the designs have been recognizably the same regardless.
    I agree that the Punchy redesign just doesn’t work. I understand what they were trying to do, but it’s not gelling. They’re trying to literalize a stylized, graphic design, and the results are a little jarring. They also lack any sense of style, but then if I start going off about that I’ll just turn into John K.

  • SarahJesness

    I always liked the Coco Puffs bird when I was a kid.

    With that said, when I think about cereal mascots these days, I think less about which one I like more and think more about whether or not their commercials involve stealing. It’s just an oddly specific gimmick, that so many cereal commercials involving stealing…

    On a side note, I think that old version of Buzz looks creepy. I like the new version better, he doesn’t jump into the uncanny valley.

  • Nate Pacheco
  • Derik

    In the end, I’d rather see cartoons than some basketball player I don’t even know.

  • Funkybat

    I understand the need for a refresh from time to time, but as a fan of both band logos and cartoons, I feel that a lot of classic cartoon product mascots have been over-worked & over-rendered in the last couple of decades. In the 90s especially, it seemed like everything had to be extra glossy looking and dimensional, even characters born of flat shapes.

    The new Hawaiian Punch Punchy above proves the trend is far from dead, but I do feel like the 21st century “retro” craze has made corporate decision-makers less afraid of going with more strong but simple designs. The revived “Cheerios Kid” is a good example of this. The bounceback happened even with non-character brands like Coke, which ditched their increasingly over-worked package designs in favor of a clean, classic look.

  • Falcione

    The biggest shock I got from this article: I never knew Punchy’s red crop was supposed to be a hat! I always thought it was his unkempt hair!

    • rosco_merrywheather

      I always thought he had red antlers. I liked it better when he did.

  • Shazbot

    Also, how come they got rid of Lucky’s pointed ears????

  • OtherDan

    That Tony The Tiger box looks much better than stiff, horrible one I saw the other day, but it has the same basic problem: The closed mouth doesn’t scream, “They’re Great!” anymore.

  • otterhead

    That 3D Punchy is just horrifying.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    It’s not necessarily the evolution of the character design ( some new versions at their basic are quite appealing); it’s the ease of graphic over-indulgence thanks to digital technology. Even with a drawn character there has been a move within the last 20 or so years to make characters 3d (beyond the illusion of solid drawing); gradients, tones, highlights, shadows, sparkles, cg, etc.
    I’ve asked myself if this is just a generational taste on my part and I think no. I really read better a simple graphic character with a black outline and flat colors. Or as in that gouache Lucky, it was not humanly impossible to throw a million colors, as we could with photoshop, at him without potentially destroying the paint and board illustration. I suppose advances in printing play a part as with special fx with film and the Tv commercial.
    I loved the character commercials form the 60s; they were like mini-short stories. I find so many commercials especially for kids are non-stop cutting and FX and fly-throughs, it’s really not about the character, they’re just trademarks now. Again it’s just so easy and cheap to put as much fx in 30 seconds as we get in an action movie so they do and I as a viewer have to look harder at what I am looking at.
    Technology isn’t going away but perhaps clients and/or agencies need to consider just because they can do everything visually doesn’t mean they should.

    That’s what I find so distracting about today’s character shills.

  • Barrett

    The overworking of Punchy’s details, right down to folds in his shirt, signify that it was done by someone either not versed in the principles of designing animated characters, or someone who’s more of a traditional illustrator who doesn’t normally work with cartoons. I’m sure this is just what the client wanted (otherwise it wouldn’t be plastered all over their packaging and website) but it’s aggravating as an artist to see a simple, stylized design like the original bastardized into this.

    The other cereal mascots, I get what another poster was saying about kids of different decades identifying with different versions of the characters. But from a purely design standpoint, I’d say the earlier you go, the better most characters get. Most of the characters today looks kind of generic, as if they were escapees from Disney or Warner Bros. I think it was cool that a lot of product mascots in the old days didn’t look like they were all drawn by the same artist or all inhabited Roger Rabbit’s Toontown.

  • Jen Hurler

    I prefer old Tony the Tiger over the new one. I love his less anthropomorphic build.