A yellow car sits parked at the edge of a precipice. Worn mountains cross the horizon as a thin ribbon of green meanders across the desolate field surrounding it. At first glance, you could easily mistake the scene for a commercial, but you soon realize that the car is a toy and the scene is another achievement for a mascot.
Mascots seem to have a curious life in the United States. Their popularity rises and falls like the tides of the ocean.
Do you remember Stanley? You know, the little guy who usually wore a striped shirt and blue pants. Someone would ship him in the mail to you and ask you to take a picture of him in some scenic place before shipping him out onto the next random person? Well Stanley is one paper link on the long chain of mascots that have traveled abroad.
Either before him, or around the same time, was the wandering gnome. Unlike Stanley, the gnome was kidnapped. Cruelly taken from his owners. Then, after a ransom letter containing a picture of the beloved creature, the gnome was whisked across the globe. Pictures were sent back to the owners of their gnome skiing in Amsterdam, tanning on the beaches of the Caribbean, having coffee in Italy, and parachuting out of airplanes. It ended well for the family as the gnome retuned one day with a peep or clue from his kidnappers.
The rule of the mascot is simple: Send it to an interested person; Have that person take a picture or pictures of the mascot in an interesting place; Ship the mascot off to the next person.
The rules for the mascot are unspoken and more involved:
1.) The mascot must be cute, quirky, or friendly in personality. The mascot needs to make friends quickly with each new person it encounters if the trip is going to happen. Otherwise the mascot will be quickly thrown into the trash and forgotten. This is why little bears, gnomes, paper children, and “cute” cars are used frequently. A spoon, not so much.
2.) The mascot must be small. Shipping costs money and if the mascot is too big or heavy, the cost to ship it will severely reduces its chances of meeting the next person. (This is why even teddy bear mascots are usually six inches or less.) Flat Stanley is the gold standard here. Being made of paper, he could be folded up, shoved in a regular envelope, and mailed off anywhere for less than the price of a candy bar.
3.) The mascot must be durable. Think you last flight in coach was bad? Imagine being squished through rollers, tossed into bins, having other boxes staked on you, traveling with no heat or air conditioning, getting tossed again by strangers, and finally being shoved into a mailbox until the recipient finds you. Now imagine doing this over and over again. Mail carriers take care of their deliveries, but people are people and mistakes happen. The mascot has to be tough to handle these situations.
4.) The mascot must be affordable. Whenever one of these journeys starts, the owner of the mascot will be faced with the fact that they might never see their mascot again once it is dropped in the mail. It may never even make it to its first destination. With this thought burning in the owner’s mind, they are not going to invest heavily into the mascot. Usually the mascot will cost ten dollars or less. (Again, Flat Stanley was king in this area.) You might find the rare person who will spend a bit more for sentimental reasons, but usually the mascot will be low cost.
Mascots are a great way to physically connect with your friends in a way that facebook, e-mails, and phone calls can’t. It’s a way to share fun and happiness when you can’t be there in person. It’s an act of faith while also an adventure on the cheap. I see the ebb and flow of their popularity traveling forever.