Mobile handset maker Nokia India has hired a nerd to endorse its e-series office handsets, online. He may not score in the dating department, but Dilbert — the main character from the eponymous comic strip syndicated to hundreds of newspapers around the world — can tell you a thing or two about the workspace.
The use of comic-strip characters to plug products and services is a growing trend among advertisers looking to grab consumer attention and enhance brand recall. Using such characters as ad faces is infinitely cheaper than using real-life celebrities, experts say, and also helps connect with consumers on a note of humour in an increasingly grim economic milieu.
Brands such as Arms — a consumer-loan resolution initiative from Asset Reconstruction Co of India Ltd (Arcil) — and Air Deccan have used cartoonist RK Laxman’s character, the Common Man, to promote themselves.
Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages recently launched an ad for the festive season featuring a character inspired by The Jungle Book’s Mowgli. MetLife India Insurance has used Snoopy, the pet beagle from Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, to communicate that insurance is not as complicated as it may be thought.
According to experts, a familiar comic character connects better with consumers, and the values of a celebrity could have a positive rub-off on the brand.
“Most comic-strip characters or cartoon characters are very well established,” says KV Sridhar, national creative director for Leo Burnett India, citing the example of Tom and Jerry. “When you see them on screen, you know what’s going to happen. They telegraphically communicate what they are and what they stand for.”
Using a comic-strip character could also help make a brand distinct. Not only is the visual familiar as most people tend to read comic strips in their daily newspaper, but the illustration is generally simplified, says Samir Patil, chief executive and founder of Amar Chitra Katha Pvt Ltd, which publishes popular comic books like Tinkle.
Globally, the use of comic-strip characters to plug products is fairly common. The wise-cracking feline star of the Garfield comic strip was one of the first famous faces to sport a milk moustache for the famous “Got Milk” campaign. The tag line said, “9 Lives. 9 Nutrients. See a pattern?”. Charlie Brown and his friends from Peanuts have appeared in ads for MetLife, the American Heart Institute, the American Lung Institute and the 1961 Ford Falcon, while the Pink Panther has endorsed “Sweet’N Low”, a sugar substitute.
Interestingly, comic-strip characters are considered a better bet than comic-book counterparts in India. Unlike markets like the UK and Japan, where comic superheroes enjoy a cult-like status, Indians tend to think of comic books and cartoon characters as juvenile. Comic strips tend to have a higher readership in India as they appear in newspapers.