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This is the first study to systematically examine how gender and race are represented in brand mascots. Mascots, which are typically spokespeople or spokescreatures, are vital to effective branding because they succinctly convey the spirit of the brand. Mascots also convey notions of who matters more in society. In this report, we examine how women and people of color are represented in the top-selling products in the U.S. to determine the extent to which gender and racial bias exists with mascots.

We conducted a content analysis to assess representations of gender and race for mascots in the U.S. Content analysis is ideal for systematically analyzing the content of communications. The unit of analysis is a character (mascot). Our categories of mascots included human (e.g., a celebrity), humanoids (e.g., talking M&M’s), animals (e.g., Tony the Tiger for Frosted Flakes), or other characters that can be classified as a “being.

We analyzed the content of the 500 top-selling products in each of the following 13 consumer product categories: bakery, beauty care, dairy, deli, frozen foods, general merchandise, grocery, health care, household care, meat, produce, pet care, and personal care. A team of five researchers systematically reviewed advertising and packaging for the 6,500 products in the sample and identified 1,096 products with mascots. (The remaining products had distinctive symbols or packaging but did not use a human, humanoid, animal, or other being as a mascot). The figures in this report are based on the 1,096 mascots from our sample of top-selling brands. Prior to initiating the work, the research team engaged in a total of 51 hours of training and codebook development. The team also performed a test to measure inter-coder reliability. Initial inter-coder reliability tests were performed on 10 mascots to ensure that members of the research team reached agreement on mascot evaluations. Inter-coder reliability was achieved in terms of both absolute agreement (87%) and Cohen’s Kappa (.71) measures.

Key Findings

Gender Disparities

  • Male mascots significantly outnumber female mascots, with a ratio of approximately two to one (67.1% male vs. 31.4% female).
  • Female mascots are more frequently depicted in line with gender stereotypes (25.4%) compared to male mascots (15.9%).
  • Male mascots are often portrayed as more commanding, holding authority in 22.9% of cases, whereas only 14.5% of female mascots are depicted this way.
  • Threatening characteristics are more common among male mascots (4.1%) than female mascots (1.5%).
  • Female mascots are twice as likely to be depicted as very skinny (19.4%) and often appear in sexually revealing clothing (8.0%) or partially nude (7.5%).
  • Humor is more frequently associated with male mascots, who are seven times more likely to be shown as funny compared to their female counterparts (18.4% vs. 2.6%).

Race Disparities

  • People of color, who make up 38% of the U.S. population, are underrepresented in mascots, accounting for only 15.2%.
  • Among mascots of color, females (18.1%) are more prevalent than males (12.7%).
  • Racial/ethnic stereotypes are significantly more prevalent among mascots of color (65.6%) compared to white mascots (2.8%).
  • Mascots of color are more often shown cooking or preparing food (28.1%) and are twice as likely to be portrayed as threatening (4.7%) compared to white mascots (10.6% and 1.7%, respectively).
  • Conversely, white mascots are more frequently depicted eating or drinking (8.4%) and are twice as likely to be portrayed as commanding (27.0% vs. 14.1% for mascots of color).