A frenzy of hands tore at the cardboard crate. Water bottles flew across the room, desperately finding the glistening faces of exhausted, dehydrated, drenched and smiling mascot-costume wearers. They smiled because before they had shed the felted fiberglass costumes, they made hundreds of children squeal with delight.
Over the past two years, 12 Rare Conservation Fellows ran marketing campaigns promoting sustainable fishing throughout the Philippines. The campaigns’ most powerful marketing tools were the charismatic sea creature mascots and community members who brought them to life. In August, the 12 mascots gathered from islands across the country for “Uniting the Reefs,” a conference celebrating the campaigns’ successes.
The mascot-wearers carried giant duffles resembling body bags on planes, buses, ferries and “jeepneys” (repurposed U.S. military jeeps used for public transport). One, a 29-year- old professor, had never been on a plane before. The only female-wearer, Antonietta Cosmiano, is a technologist in the composting laboratory in Lanuza, the surfing capital of the Philippines. The young man who embodies Pitz, the splendid red spooner crab, traveled 15 hours, arrived at the hotel and briefly put down the bag when a van backed over the costume, dislodging an eye and crushing the body. “It was a hit and run!” exclaimed Rare Conservation Fellow Armando Gaviola. “At least no one was inside the costume.”
“When I wear the lobster, I imagine I am a lobster.”
Oversized caricatures are not new in the Philippines. Jollibee—the blazer-wearing bee in a chef’s hat promoting the fast food chain of the same name—might be the most recognized national personality. But small fishing villages typically do not have their own mascots. The community members themselves helped identify the species and chose the names. The personalities of the mascots have since evolved into priceless messengers. “They become child magnets,” says Brian Day, Rare’s director of social marketing, “And the family follows.
The mascot is part of the campaign brand. For a relatively modest investment, mascots are an extremely effective mobilization machine.”
Cosmiano, the diminutive, sole female mascot-wearer, embodies the commercially valuable lobster, called Loblob. The fan battery in the head of the mascot died as she was about to greet 700 elementary school children on the steamy, August morning. Without a thought for her impending discomfort, she ran to greet the pandemonium of excited children. As Loblob approached, the kids broke past their teachers (unable to maintain crowd control) to shake his claw. He danced, jumped and shook his tail in Loblob’s signature surf shorts that look just a little too tight. “I am happy when the children see Loblob they are very happy,” says Cosmiano. She has a five-year old and a seven-year old at home who have met Loblob and think he is very cute, but have no idea that their mother’s hand squeezes a lever that blinks the large, lashy lobster eyes. Not even her husband knows.
The identities of the wearers remain intentionally anonymous. The fellows did not want personal issues influencing the image of the mascot. “The mascot is the ambassador of the campaign,” says Rare Conservation Fellow Vince Dueñas. “People are not perfect, so we use the mascot to convey messages.” Mayor Pedro “Pete” Trinidad from Dueñas’s hometown narrated the story of the mascots for the entranced children, explaining how clown fish, lobsters and other sea creatures need protection from illegal fishers. “I wanted to show the people my support for the program,” says Trinidad.
The day after the school visits, the mascots convened with mayors, local officials and marine scientists in a hotel conference room for “Uniting the Reefs.” Between presentations and speeches, the mascots stole the show. They danced to their campaign songs and the crowd responded with nearly the same enthusiasm as the children. These mascots are not just for kids.
“Loblob is an inspiration for the fishermen,” says Cosmiano. She says that a year ago there were only scarce, small lobsters in the sanctuary and now there are many. “When I wear the lobster, I imagine I am a lobster.”