A corporate mascot is a cartoon, animated, or live person or animal that makes the consumer feel something about a corporation other than what the corporation actually is. Mascots take advantage of people's adolescent fondness for children and pets, to deflect people's mature loathing of corporations. Every organization worthy of the name has a mascot: schools, fire departments, police precincts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the military services, and, of course, businesses. In fact, there are several businesses whose business is the design, production, distribution, and sale of mascots.
As times change, so do company mascots. What was once considred fashionable may later be considered corny or gauche. Mascots that were acceptable in the past may be considered insensitive or inappropriate in a more enlightened (i. e., politically correct) day. Images that were simple may use more sophisticated computer-generated art. If a company is acquired by a bigger corporation (i. e., a shark), the buyer may change the mascot. An older character may give way to a younger one who the company hopes will appeal to more affluent younger customers. The continual revision of mascots is commonplace among today's businesses as they continuously jockey in America's marketplace.
Slavery became unpopular after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War, and, late in the 20th century, Pillsbury, the makers of the pancake syrup bearing the picture of Aunt Jemima, a grinning black household slave wearing a red-and-white checkered homespun dress and a yellow-and-red checkered scarf to hide her "nappy" hair, realized that forced servitude had, indeed, fallen out of favor with the American people, especially blacks. As a result, they belatedly changed their mascot to a smiling (rather than a grinning) black cook (rather than a household slave) who dressed in more stylish (rather than hand-me-down-looking) clothes. The new Jemima was also younger and wore her hair in a tight bun instead of under a scarf. She is often referred to by executives in the advertising industry as the “Intermediate Aunt Jemima,” to distinguish her from the "Original Aunt Jemima" and the later "Contemporary Jemima." However, consumers were not satisfied with Aunt Jemima's makeover, which critics contended was nothing more than "slavery made fashionable." They also pointed out that "Aunt" was a polite title, back in the days of slavery, for a female slave. The company responded by transforming the intermediate Jemima into the so-called "Contemporary Jemima," a white woman in an abbreviated pink uniform bearing a small serving tray upon which there is no evidence whatsoever of pancakes or any other food. Rumor has it that the company also intends to change the mascot's name to "Jenny."
For decades, Coppertone Suntan Lotion used the slogan "Tan, don't burn, with Coppertone," and a picture of a topless pre-adolescent girl whose dog, having seized her swimsuit's bottom in its jaws, pulls it down to expose her buttocks and the contrasting difference between her pale bottom and the rest of her tanned body. Child protective services across the country demanded that the image be retired, claiming that it represented child abuse and child pornography, that it appealed to child molesters and sexual perverts, and that it was, in general, not only "sick" but also "a sad commentary on a society that would profit from pedophilia." The gay community also criticized the image. "Why does it have to be a girl's butt?" Pansy Gay demanded, with a flick of his wrist. "Gay guys' butts are every bit as luminous and lovely." The suntan lotion giant sought to appease its customers by offering two new updates of its mascot, replacing the Copperone Girl with a man, for the gay community, introduced on the cover of a Rolling Stone issue, and a woman, introduced on the cover of an Esquire edition.
Ideas about what makes women beautiful change from time to time (centuries in some Eastern cultures, daily in America), and, of course, to keep abreast with such changes, companies must occasionally update their mascots when those mascots are the likenesses of women, as is the case with Columbia Picture’s Lady Liberty mascot.
Originally, Lady Liberty was shrouded in a funerary toga-like gown and looked like someone’s grandmother. She was fine for a generation that preferred their mothers over their wives, mistresses, and girlfriends, but, in a day and age in which younger women, 10 and up, have become the ideal representatives (or representations) of feminine pulchritude, it was necessary, Columbia’s executives thought, to give their mascot a makeover. The result is a younger, prettier, and more modern mascot for whom the live model is the studio president’s wife. (It doesn’t hurt to keep the little woman happy.)
With the contemporary proclivity, among Hollywood actresses, to engage in lesbian antics on and off the silver screen, insiders suggest that Columbia is considering changing its mascot yet again, this time to a pair of Lady Liberty representatives, Britney Spears and Madonna.
Elsie the Cow
Informed by feminists that it is impolite to portray a woman as a cow and, given the fact that cows have mammary glands (more commonly called udders) and that women, likewise, have udders (more commonly called mammary glands, breasts, boobs, jugs, knockers, or tits), it is possibly sexist to do so as well, the movers and milkshakers at Borden's decided that the old Elsie was too blatantly bovine to continue to represent the dairy company and its fine line of products and propaganda. As a result, the "old Elsie," as Borden's employees came to call the first cow, was retired to a comfortable slaughterhouse and replaced by the company's current mascot, also called "Elsie," who looks much more human while retaining the classic woman = cow metaphorical association.
The new openness (all right, "shamelessness") of American TV networks to frank representations of sexual topics in primetime commercials has led advertisers to develop new mascots for old products. The dusty old Television Code used to prohibit discussion of many common maladies, such as
- ED (Erectile Dysfunction)
- PE (Premature Ejaculation)
- PGP (Prostate Gland Problems)
- SPS (Small Penis Syndrome)
Now, however, the United States condones and endorses same-sex marriage, celebrates abortion-on-demand, makes available for free condoms and other birth-control devices in elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools, and human rights groups promote the right to have sex with whomever one chooses, regardless of age, creed, race, national origin, sexual identity, or species. Consequently, TV networks and advertisers more aggressively promote sex-related merchandise of all kinds.
Spartan Condoms has been in the forefront in developing a “cute, personified” condom mascot named “Peter Trenchcoat.” Ads featuring Peter first appeared on FOX News, which was the boldest in broaching taboo topics, though ultimately not the suggestion that Donald Trump could be right about something.
Many other companies, once prevented from using mascots to promote their goods and services, are expected to follow suit, to use a cliché common to journalism. America's love affair with adolescence may produce strange bedfellows, as it were, as increasingly strange mascots become commonplace.