Under the Influence

This brand mascot is the most recognized but least liked on TV

Some brands use disgustingly effective advertising mascots to talk about delicate subjects on television. Fun characters that personify bodily functions the way human actors never could. But one in particular stands out from the pack.
(YouTube)

There is an entire category of marketing that is disgustingly effective. Those are the products that deal with the more delicate of our bodily functions. They are difficult subjects to talk about in ad land. But many brands have found a solution - they create fun, cuddly mascots to personify the bodily functions. And they all have one thing in common: they are disgustingly lucrative.


Mr. Mucus

They say by the time you're an octogenarian, you've probably suffered through about 200 colds. But the drugstore medication shelves are overflowing with options.

You may only need them 2-3 times a year. But when you do, you'll probably choose a well-advertised brand. As a result, the over-the-counter cold remedy industry is a tough advertising category. And sneezing, coughing and congestion aren't exactly delightful body functions.

So in 2004, cold and flu brand Mucinex launched a $22M campaign to get people thinking about their phlegm.

They did it by creating a mascot. And they called him: Mr. Mucus.

Mr. Mucus is a raspy-voiced slimy, green chunk of phlegm with arms and legs – wearing a stained midriff-bearing tank top and suspenders.

He burrows into your lungs and makes himself at home in a Barca Lounger watching TV, until Mucinex slides down and flushes him out:

An amusing way to treat phlegm.

The next year, Mr. Mucus met his bride and co-star of the subsequent ads: Mrs. Mucus.

AdWeek magazine described her as "just as large, green and irritating as her new husband."

One ad showed slimy Mrs. Mucus doing housework inside a pair of lungs:

By 2006, Mucinex climbed to number four in the cold and flu category, capturing 5% of the market share.

Two years later, the brand's annual growth had doubled since the Mr. Mucus debut in 2004.

All was going well - until 2014 - when Mucinex received some surprising news: Mr. Mucus was one of the most recognized mascots, but he was also the least-liked.

So that year, Mr. Mucus got a bit of a makeover. They gave him a wetter, more 3D appearance and toned down his New York accent, opting for a slightly gentler voice.

But Mr. Mucus also took on a new role outside the human body. Plucking him out of peoples' lungs and into the real world. Like in this commercial where he sits beside someone on an airplane - a place where so many of us fall prey to germs:

Mr. Mucus is green, drippy and abrasive.

And yet, you can go online and purchase plush-toy versions of him, Mrs. Mucus and their little mucus offspring.

They're a disgusting, but effective little family.


Xifaxan

The 2016 Super Bowl contained most of the usual advertisers - including beer, cars, soft drinks and potato chips.

But there were a surprising number of commercials for diarrhea and its opposite problem - constipation. So many, in fact, AdWeek magazine dubbed it the Super Bowel.

One of those $5 million-dollar commercials dealt with the not-so-fun topic of diarrhea.

Most Super Bowl commercials are fun and try to entertain on game day. But diarrhea is a tricky subject for humour.

Xifaxan is a medication for treating irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea. It chose to use a mascot to personify the condition.

It looked like a little pink ball of lower intestines - with a face.

The commercial showed the pink intestine mascot at the Super Bowl, sitting in the stands, then it suddenly has intestinal problems and runs up the stairs to the stadium washroom while holding its behind the entire way:

One viewer tweeted that it looked like Kermit the Frog's illegitimate brother.

Another said: "Thanks for that, Xifaxan. Gross."

And still another tweeted: "Did someone just high-five a colon in the Xifaxan commercial?"

Answer: Yes. That happened.

But other people found the mascot cute, saying it was the best commercial in the Super Bowl. Others said they wanted the plush toy.

That's the power of a cute little mascot. It can even make diarrhea cuddly.


For more stories about Disgustingly Effective Advertising Mascots, click or tap the "Listen" tab above to hear the full Under the Influence episode. You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.


Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.
Follow the journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and search the hashtag: #Terstream.