Making changes to a beloved brand mascot is a process fraught with potential pitfalls. Characters need to evolve along with technologies and taste, but a redesign risks losing what endeared audiences to the brand in the first place. KFC’s recent campaign from Wieden+Kennedy subverts the challenge with a string of fake Colonels, while Deutsch NY has spent 10 months working on the latest version of the "Jolly" Green Giant, expected to debut in early November.
Last month, an even more popular advertising icon – the Energizer Bunny – unveiled a new look as part of the "Bigger, Better, Bunnier" campaign, the first work for the brand from San Francisco shop Camp+King, which won the Energizer account in January in a review. Prior to that, Energizer had been with TBWA\Chiat\Day for 25 years. At the time of the win, the move sparked rumors that the Bunny might get the boot until Energizer's Chief Consumer Officer Michelle Atkinson made it clear he would remain a highly visible part of the brand.
Since his debut in 1989, when he was created by DDB as a spoof of a Duracell mascot, the Bunny’s look has remained relatively unchanged. "We wanted to make the Bunny feel 'real' again," said Roger Camp, partner and CCO at Camp+King. "He was at his best when he felt like a real toy. When he was breaking through the TV sets years ago, he had a sense of mischief and rascal-like quality, and there was a still a little bit of mystery about where he was headed off to."
More a makeover than a full revamp, the Camp+King version is a bit more svelte, with brand new fur and a wider range of motion. In the new spots, the Bunny shows off his new flexibility, his independently moving legs and his wagging puff of a tail.
Newly released creative assets from VFX & design company The Mill reveal some of the behind-the-scenes planning that went into the Bunny’s new look. He needed to be easier to use across different media, and a digital character can convey more personality than the classic animatronic Bunny.
"We wanted to expand his range of movement to create stronger performances, so with that came looking at the design and thinking about how a modern robotics toy would be manufactured," said Robert Sethi, creative director at The Mill and director of the new spots. "We started with connecting the arms and hands." They added details to his toes and fingers, which before had looked more like mittens.
Rather than a simple fist clutching his drum mallets, he can toss them in the air. He has whisker stubble. And he actually walks, rather than just rolling along. At first, Camp considered having the Bunny take off his sunglasses at some point, but the feature was determined to be too popular to discard, though he adds future spots will change "certain aspects moving forward, like not having him always carrying the drum, setting down the mallets."
Early sketches toyed with enabling even more motion than is present in the final spot, or adding a mouth (he’s never had one, and still doesn’t).
Even as the final storyboard for the intro spot came together, the movements the Bunny needed to make highlighted shortcomings in the design. At first, he looked good in his CGI skin. "We thought we were going in a good direction, only to find out when we put the fur on him, it bulked him out and changed the silhouette," said The Mill’s Jason Monroe, lead 3D artist on the campaign. The team had to go back and slim him down to get the right proportions.
An early attempt to add a bit of facial hair was also aborted. It was more rabbit tuft than full hipster, but "it definitely aged him," Sethi said.
Over the next few months, Energizer will roll out two more spots focusing on the redesign, in addition to two that are already out. In an homage to the early "interruption" spots from the '90s, he’ll run as momentary bumper ads on YouTube videos. And perhaps unavoidably, Camp+King will release a Snapchat lens that transforms users into the Bunny.
"We've taken note of the old Supervolt supervillain series and realized he's pretty endearing when he finds ways to defeat a foe by simply doing what he's always done best — just keep going," Camp said. "He doesn't need to be a superhero or go out of his way to win."
Whether this iteration of the Energizer Bunny becomes as popular as his forebear remains to be seen. But for Monroe at The Mill, being a part of his reinvention has been a defining experience. "When in your career do you get to take such an iconic brand and develop it, work on it?" he said. "I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve never had an opportunity like this."
Ninety-five percent of consumers recognize the Energizer Bunny, according to a 2008 study. Energizer
The average rabbit lives between seven and 10 years. But one remarkable specimen is heading toward its 27th birthday. That's so old for a bunny, in fact, that this particular one is also getting a face-lift.
We speak, of course, of the Energizer Bunny—the pink, fuzzy mechanical mascot that wears shades, shuffles around in flip-flops and beats a drum. Chances are you've seen it in one or more of the innumerable TV spots that look like ads for something other than batteries—until the needle-scratch moment when the bunny enters the screen, pounding that big drum while the voiceover man extols the batteries that "keep going and going and going."
It's all been good fun—and highly successful marketing—for over a generation now. But Energizer has decreed it's time for an update.
"He's getting a bit of a makeover," said Michelle Atkinson, chief consumer officer at Energizer.
The longtime mascot is getting an increased range of motion and facial expressions. Energizer
To the over-40 crowd, the Energizer Bunny is second only to Bugs Bunny in terms of recognition. But in recent months, the company conducted a number of focus groups to see if its pink rabbit resonated with millennials. The good new is "he does," Atkinson said. "But they want to see him in a new way, so we transformed him."
That was actually a delicate operation. When a brand mascot is as popular as this rabbit is (according to a 2008 survey, the Energizer Bunny enjoys an astonishing 95 percent recognition rate), you need to be careful. Study participants told Energizer not to mess with the bunny's signature accessories—shades, flip-flops, etc. And since this rabbit is essentially wearing nothing to start with, that didn't leave much to tinker with.
Instead, responding to the public's desire that the bunny be more "expressive," Energizer worked with creative shop Camp + King to animate the bunny—they give him an increased range of motion and also facial expressions. the bunny's fur also looks softer and, well, more bunnylike. "He'll be more realistic and able to move," Atkinson said. "And he has a new hop—a new walk. He's still a toy, but he's taking on more of a human expression." (According to a statement from Energizer, the bunny has also "slimmed down" a bit.)
Energizer has dubbed the makeover effort "Bigger, Better, Bunnier."
Kicked out of America: the Duracell Bunny
At press time today, the bunny's new, humanlike moves were scheduled to be on display at New York Fashion Week, where the bunny interrupts designer Angela Simmons' runway show for her new activewear collection by coming out onto the runway.
But those outside the white tent needn't fret—chances to see the new hare will abound online. The updated Energizer Bunny will appear in YouTube bumper ads and on Spotify, where the company says he'll "show off his drumming talents." Energizer is also planning a Snapchat lens for later in the year, giving consumers a chance to make themselves look bunnylike.
To complement its updated rabbit, Energizer has also tweaked its famous tagline, now shortened to just "Still Going!"
He's still going, all right—but the Energizer Bunny's stamina and cuteness belies its largely unknown Machiavellian side. It was actually Duracell that came up with the idea of a battery-powered pink bunny as a mascot—in 1973. But when Duracell was reportedly too slow to renew its trademark, Energizer hopped into the breach, hiring DDB Needham Worldwide to create a rabbit of its own. (The Duracell Bunny is still hopping around, but only in European countries, following a 1992 arrangement between the battery giants.)
The Energizer Bunny was pretty much a hit from the moment it debuted on TV in October 1989 (see video below) and eventually became a cultural icon. It's been spoofed on Saturday Night Live, evoked in presidential stump speeches and made into a float for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. That track record did not stop Energizer from giving the heave-ho to TBWA\Chiat\Day last fall, though it was that agency's creative work that made the bunny a star.
Given the branding clutter that abounds in the marketplace, lucky is the brand that has a recognizable mascot, let alone one that's served it for so long. Earlier this year, you might recall, B&G Foods hired Deutsch to give to the famous Green Giant, familiar to shoppers since 1928, a makeover of its own. In the case of Energizer, "The bunny is the brand," said Hayes Roth, president of brand and marketing firm HA Roth Consulting. "They'd be foolish to give him up—unless there were big, pink bunnies destroying the world."
Roth suggests that, despite the bunny's age, it's arguably doing more for Energizer now than it did in the old days. Why? Batteries have become a commodity product, and there's not much of a difference among the leading brands anymore. Which means battery-buying consumers are making decisions based on brand perception alone. And if a fuzzy pink bunny can keep the Energizer name top of mind, it might make all the difference.
"We all have a soft feeling for the bunny, and Energizer's been clever in how they've used him," Roth said. "So [the remake] is a smart move, so long as they don't over-reach and put him out of character."
There's little risk of that. Atkinson relates that Energizer's focus groups made clear what was OK to change and what wasn't. Take away too much of the bunny's "essence," she said, "and people are going to be upset. There will be a lot of [negative] social-media chatter."
There sure would be—and it would keep going and going and going.