Brandscape

Will brand characters disappear from the shelves?

SWEET-PACKS

Will the latest Government restrictions on promoting HFSS (high-fat, sugar, salt) foods and growing parental pressure lead to some of our favourite kid’s brand characters starting to play a lesser role in packaging or even becoming extinct altogether?

Every generation has fond memories of those loveable brand mascots, whether it’s Frosties’ Tony the Tiger, The Milky Bar Kid, the Haribo Bear or the mischievous M&M characters. Many brands have been imprinted into our subconscious with memorable straplines, classic animation, and catchy tunes. But could future generations miss out?

Further details of the UK’s Department of Health’s new HFSS legislation have been shared, with its overarching aim to tackle the growing UK obesity problem. From October, the new measures limit sales practices for tasty snacks and naughty treats we all love – removing the temptation for us all to indulge.

But it’s not just the state intervening; consumers are also having their say.

In 2020, ASDA decided to cull characters, reduce the sugar content of their cereal packets, and more recently announced more character culling from more of their own-label ranges. The move was in response to consumer feedback and to help address ‘pester power’ – when kids pester their parents for foods based on how they look on the shelf. The move was part of a much broader movement to help parents make informed choices about their children’s diets. ASDA’s pre-emptive strike could start something more widespread amongst fellow retailers and food brands.

Also, in April this year, Unilever, one of the world’s largest owners of household brands, revealed that it is to stop marketing food and beverages to children under the age of 16 across both traditional and social media. This follows their earlier 2020 announcement around ceasing marketing activity to under 12s in conventional media and those under 13 via social media. The most recent announcement confirms that they wouldn’t be using influencers, celebrities, or social media stars under 16 to promote their brands either. All this is designed to limit the appeal of influencer content to children.

With this in mind, is it only a matter of time before we experience limitations on the placement and use of appealing, fun characters on the packaging? Will brand characters be allowed to remain as mastheads for brands on the shelf in the UK? Maybe the writing has been on the wall for a while?

The world has made a monumental leap with the internet of things, and brands have had to learn how to interact with their audience in a very different way; children are growing up in a world that isn’t dominated by TV advertising but rather video shorts on social media channels and apps. The 30-second TV commercial with a character doing fun and engaging things to build brand awareness and personality is no more. Replaced by 3-second memes with brand characters taken out of the spotlight, favouring more direct product messaging or ‘brand discovery’ content.

So, with characters disappearing from advertising, it stands to reason that the association is no longer required as the lead on the packaging – resigned to nostalgic editions or celebratory campaigns.

But brand characters on children’s products may still have a place in a more supportive role. Becoming the educator or ‘host’ to help introduce and promote product claims and critical brand messaging on the pack and other channels.

Have we said our last ‘Howdy’ to the Milky Bar Kid? Will the Haribo Bear go into hibernation? Or does the Nesquik Bunny simply hop away? – we’ll wait and see.

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