Innovation & Design

The Making of a Superstar Icon


Here's a lesson in how to create a face for your brand that will be irresistible to girls and will blow away the competition

What's lovable, snuggly, irresistible, collectible, obsession-worthy, and can rapidly blow your brand right past its competition?

Brand character icons. Their magnetism can create marketing empires —more so now than ever before. Superstar icons can instantly turn indifference into passion. They have a universal power that defies economic and cultural limitations, giving brands mass appeal. And their "aww" factor can fuel millions of impulse sales, from label snobs or bargain hunters alike.

Girls are suckers for cute. Most girls didn't give a second thought to insurance until Geico introduced Gecko and girls instantly fell in love with the adorable little reptile. Design your brand spokesperson right and you'll gain more market impact and loyalty than any celebrity sponsorship could buy. Superstar icons are even better than supermodels. Beauty shots of models are forgettable, easily knocked off, and don't have the flexibility of scalability, motion graphics, and other important visuals of modern-day brand languages. Superstar icons are powerful because they are ownable, memorable, and can be designed to support every media and product need of a modern-day brand.

Catch My Drift?

The growing success of character licensing business proved that cute icons directly increase revenues. When Hello Kitty hit the mainstream, it showed that cute could win over any girl, with products sold in every retail tier from Wal-Mart (WMT) to a trendy boutique, and rake in gazillions in every product category imaginable. The same phenomenon occurred with Happy Bunny and Paul Frank's monkey Julius.

Why? Because the right icon makes a compulsive shopper out of any girl. Suddenly we find ourselves buying products we don't really need—say, an ordinary pair of socks—just because of the adorable bunny in the corner. Girls commonly sport icon-based prints, fashion hardware, and patches. We also buy icons in bed sheets, underwear, sleepwear, T-shirts, handbags, notebooks, stationery, socks, bedding, backpacks, phones, and watches. You get the drift.

Now before you go off and start sketching, we must emphasize not just any icon is hot, and some icons will not work with certain brands.

Just as the market potential of icons has expanded, so have the design demands. Superstar icons aren't like the brand insignias of old—works of illustration and graphic design. Tomorrow's icons must factor in cartooning, animation, interactivity, character licensing, and all the potential graphical requirements to support a diversity of fabrics, molds, and variations to make rich signature product lines.

By now, you're wondering, "How do I get myself one of these hot little icons?" Well fear not, below is our guide to creating a girl-approved icon—one that meets the consumer product and media standards of the 21st century girl. Follow these guidelines to rule the girl marketing world!

Meet Foxy Flirt, an icon whipped up in our girl-approved pink factory to illustrate the rules.

Physical Personality. Modern girls live in a world run by screens. We're talking about televisions, computers, billboards, PlayStations, and cell phones, not to mention our latest screen option, iPods. Superstars are animated: Unlike traditional icons that were designed in one static posture, superstars have body language and energy. Just as colors can define a brand, a character's signature movements will become part of a brand's language in the future.

Emotional Personality. Girls are intrigued by emotional expression and substance. When something is unemotional or cold they get turned off. Superstars are charismatic and engaging, like the kind of person you want to interact with, whether at a big party or over coffee, one on one. Create an icon that has humanity, one that consumers will want to have a relationship with. A good example of strongly branded, emotional icons: the M&Ms dudes.

Branded Sounds. Superstars use all aspects of digital media. They have a brand voice and vocabulary. Come up with a trademark voice, a unique vernacular, or a catch phrase. This gives your icon recognition even when it's channeled through your MP3 player. A superstar sound icon is the Pillsbury Doughboy whose signature squeal is never forgotten and frequently imitated.

Adaptive Graphics. The growing applications for icons today in both media and product require more flexibility. Superstars are intentionally designed with variety in color, body language, scalability, and seasonal and mood diversity. From billboards to earrings, the best icons still read and look cute. Superstar icons can change as frequently as girls change their clothes. One color or multiple, standing up or sitting down, playing ball or dressing up, the brand icon is as much of a chameleon as the girl it targets.

A Catchy Name. As you might have noticed, girls talk constantly about things they like. If you have a good name, it will spread fast. It is hard to ask for something or brag about it if it doesn't have a name—like that dog. You know, the one Victoria Secret Uses for its PINK brand?

Build an Icon with Meaning. Superstars express the meaning and purpose of their brands. Design every element of the character so that it communicates and represents your brand's attributes. A superstar icon must appeal to girls' intellect as well as their emotions. A cute dog without purpose is just another cute dog.

Unique Features. Superstars are so unique they are not easily forgotten or knocked off. Girls have distinct features, so why shouldn't your icon? Superstars have many distinguishable features and design components, so that they can be instantly recognized either in full form or in just one small part.

Want more girl customers? Superstar icons have the power to transport your brand straight to our hearts and memory—not to mention make our socks a whole lot cuter.

The Girl Improved column is written by the girls of 3iYing - a market and design strategy firm that specializes in marketing to girls ages 15 to 25. 3iying, which is an exclusively all-girl talent team, can be reached at 3iying@3iying.com. This column's authors are: Sami Beachell, Kat Sengstaken, Heidi Dangelmaier, Rachelle Bowers.

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