By Ben Norman
Byron Sharp and Orlando Wood have made our lives much more difficult. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Ehrenberg-Bass’ work on fluent devices and the System1 work on left/right brain features has pretty much given us the cheat sheet for effective advertising.

This is most obvious when we look at brand characters and the influx of the good, the bad and the very ugly we’re currently seeing.

This poses a question: when everybody zigs, do we need to zag? If every brand is now following the Sharp/Wood playbook and the bar is raised, do we need to plough a new furrow to stand out?

The good news is, I don’t think we do.

Luckily, for brands with good marketers at the helm, a good percentage of your peers are jumping to the answers on the cheat sheet, without reading the questions first.

As we’ve seen with every discovery relevant to our industry in the past few decades, marketers love a tactic and have a tendency to jump head-first into a silver bullet, often before doing the research, diagnosing the problem and then developing a proper strategy.

So, whilst we should welcome the new wave of brand characters hitting our screens (after all there’s good science behind it), it’s not enough to just throw a moustache onto an animated recycling bin and expect it to work.

In fact, a marketer introducing a brand character on a whim, is no different to doubling-down on NFTs, the Metaverse or floating a turd down the Thames. All of these things could be relevant, but only if the strategy leads you there.

But let’s say a character is the right solution, it’s a pretty a broad brief and… a character isn’t a character unless it has character. The best characters stick in the mind by being either loved or hated, they evoke feeling, they say the things perhaps we can’t, or shouldn’t; their expressions, movements, actions and personalities hit a nerve and they do it over and over again to build an inseparable bond with their brand.

The best characters are distinctive, entertaining, visible and have been used consistently, so it's not a difficult task pulling together a list of the best ever brand characters, these are the ones that come to mind quickest and have stayed there longest.

On the flip side, we had to think pretty hard to come up with the worst – by nature many of them are pretty forgettable, and the others we only wish we could forget.

The best brand characters ever

Compare the Market’s Meerkats

Aleksandr and Sergei are perhaps the funniest (and most effective) brand character duo since Jonny Vegas and ‘Monkey’. CTM took leadership of the market in 2013 and have held it ever since.

Levi’s Flat Eric

Such an irrational left-field move for Levi’s that Hegarty had to beg the client to make it happen. When watching this back, it’s worth pondering how much would be lost if he was a CGI character rather than a puppet.

Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot

A story that unfolds and evolves year after year. With each telling the cast grows larger, jokes get closer to the bone and the results more impressive.

Barry Scott

Another example of a risk paying off, love him or hate him, you certainly can’t ignore him. The beauty here being that nobody ever really knew if it was a joke or not.

Lurpak Man

Natwest’s Piggies, Churchill’s nodding dog or Birdseye’s Bears – you know you’ve done something right when people are bidding silly amounts for your brand mascot on eBay.

PG Tips' Monkey

It’s hard to decide whether the genius was in Monkey as a character, or the comedy of Jonny Vegas at the time. Regardless, it worked incredibly well and could have lived longer.

The Honey Monster

There’s something eternally endearing about this larger than life… who-knows-what? It’s hard to believe he’ll be 50 in a couple of years!

The worst brand characters ever

Excitable Edgar

Possibly John Lewis’ best-ever Christmas character, and therefore a crime to appear only once for a few weeks.

The Werther’s Original Grandad

It’s hard to put a finger on why we don’t warm to the Werther’s Original grandad, but there’s something more sickly than sweet about these ads. Maybe it’s the uncanny resemblance to the KFC colonel?

The Direct Line phone

It’s not impossible to feel affection for an inanimate object (remember the Microsoft Word paperclip?) but this just doesn’t do it.

KFC’s young colonel

The OG KFC colonel is perhaps one of the most famous brand characters of all time, but they got it very wrong here.

Ronald McDonald

Maybe a controversial call, but what has Ronald ever brought to the party other than a slightly uncomfortable feeling?

KFC’s chicken

KFC are back again, because nothing says finger lickin’ quite like seeing an animated version of the animal you’re about to eat.

So there you have it, the closest we could get to a 'definitive' list on a polarising subject which is inherently subjective. Please do let us know if you think we've missed any, if you're personally offended by our choices, or of course if you'd like to chat about creating your very own unforgettable brand character.