Fictionalize Your Social Marketing Strategy

A new study suggests fictional characters generate more social media buzz than celebrity spokespeople.


Working as a celebrity spokesperson for a large, recognizable company is great work if you can get it.

At the peak of his popularity and value, Nike couldn’t write enough zeros on checks they sent to Tiger Woods. And according to a Forbes article, in 2012, LeBron James pocketed a solid $40 million from his sponsorships with Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Nike, twice his yearly salary with the NBA’s Miami Heat.

But with costs this extravagant, companies and credit unions alike must be selective when allocating funds toward spokespeople. As the celebrity versus fictional character spokesperson debate heats up, there is one question that needs to be asked: spend money on Tiger Woods or Tony the Tiger?

A recent study by analysts at Synthesio and published in the Social Times suggests that while traditional TV advertising may benefit from the presence of a celebrity spokesperson, social media advertising may not.

The study found that fictional characters used as spokespeople were more effective in generating social media buzz: great news for Tony the Tiger and friends, not so great for Tiger Woods.

Less than one percent of social media mentions of celebrities like Tiger Woods concern the brand they endorse.  In comparison, mascots such as Tony, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Aflac duck, Flo from Progressive, and the Geico Gecko capture as much as 22 percent of the social media conversations about their respective brand, largely because any mention of the character doubles as a mention of the brand itself.

The study’s findings are pertinent to credit unions looking to improve their social media advertising presence. As social media advertising garners a larger percentage of the marketing budget, these findings will no doubt shape future marketing strategies. And while credit unions don’t have the financial resources of, say, General Mills, small-scale social campaigns can be produced with mitigated cost.

Members of Generation Y, the desirable, yet untapped mass of potential customers, spend a majority of their free-time online using social media. According to the Content Marketing Institute, surfing through social media and blogs account for 23% of all time spent online. By creating a buzz-y and potentially successful social campaign, credit unions position themselves well to capturing the attention of the Generation Y audience. Influencing their decision-making, however, is an entirely different matter.  

Celebrity spokespeople come ready-made to endorse a product or business. They are attractive, widely-known, and often liked by consumers. Too attract top talent, however, can cost millions of dollars. A sum outside many a marketing budget.

Fictional characters are free and lend themselves naturally to creative marketing schemes. Over time, these characters become more associated with their brands than human spokespeople. As the study shows, Tony the Tiger receives more brand mentions than Ashton Kutcher (Nikon), Sofia Vergara (Pepsi), Alicia Keys (BlackBerry), and Justin Timberlake (Bud Light) combined. 

So again, Tiger Woods? Or Tony the Tiger? 


Aug. 29, 2013


  • who is your favorite spokesperson?
  • It's a tie between the Gecko and Flo.