Travelling with a Red Panda: Designing a Mascot part1

I’m on my first flight to Tokyo. I won a contest: free hotel stays for a year in four Asian countries. I plan to milk this prize.


Anyway, I won this prize because I designed Red Planet Hotel’s mascot: Freddy The Red Panda. Actually, this prize was earned more than it was won. After all, I have been working on animated commercials and TV shows for over a decade. With all that experience, with all those notes you get from your corporate clients and network executives; the ones that you think that are unnecessary, the ones you think make no sense at first. You get a sense of what major corporations want in their animated characters: the least offensive character one could design.

This first blog goes over what I was thinking when I designed the little critter. I’m probably going to offend some of the other artists who entered this contest. And to them, I do not offer any apologies to my constructive criticism. But instead of apologies, I offer you knowledge. Professional knowledge. So hopefully, you can land that next job or win that contest.

I really wanted to submit a Slow Loris. They are so adorable, slow, and somewhat unknown. They live in South East Asia, which is where most of the Red Planet Hotels are. It was a good idea. It was my favorite idea. But it wasn’t a corporate idea.

But nothing the rules said I couldn’t enter more than one mascot.

So I thought a Red Panda would be great too. He’s red, Red Planet Hotels are red. But I felt like this was an obvious choice. I thought everyone would design a red panda. They’re red. They’re cute. But in the end I saw, maybe five other red pandas. One of them was one of the finalists.
So I started drawing Lorises and Red Pandas. I did research on them.
redpanda 2
Then I found out that Slow Lorises are one of the few venomous mammals in the World! A hotel chain wouldn’t want a venomous mammal hanging around their guests, no matter how cute they are. So I dropped the Loris idea and concentrated on the Red Panda.

One of my biggest concerns was that he would be mistaken as a fox. And looking back, I shouldn’t have cared. For one thing, Red Pandas are also called Fire Foxes. Also, look at Jiminey Cricket from Disney’s Pinocchio. He looks nothing like a bug. Bugs aren’t very cute. He’s just a small green “man”. And everyone agrees he’s a cricket is because he says so.

So, I shouldn’t have cared if he looked like a Fox or not. Hello Kitty doesn’t look like a cat, it has no mouth and I’ve never seen a mouse that looked like Mickey. What’s more important is that he’s cute.

For inspiration, I watched John Oliver’s piece about Japanese mascots. From what I got from it, is that its an animal with a thing on it. So it was a Red Panda with a locator pin floating over his head. This was a good opportunity to put the Red Planet logo on him. Sure, I could have put it on his shirt, but I think it would be better if he represented the guest rather than the employees. And remember, Corporations spend lots and lots of money creating their logo. You want to help show it off.
The locator pin hovers over his head, like a halo or a thought balloon. One way you can symbolically see it is that he’s always thinking about checking into a Red Planet Hotel. Another was that he was blessed to be at a Red Planet Hotel. Both interpretations say something positive about the client.
Let’s play with word association. When you think of the words “Red Planet”, what comes to mind? Mars? Sci-Fi? Aliens?

I don’t know why this company is called Red Planet. Maybe we’re hinting at going somewhere far far away. Maybe its because red is a lucky color among the Chinese and Chinese culture has influenced the region for centuries.

I don’t know, but looking at their website, I never thought of the planet Mars. I felt that something associated with “alien” and “hotel hospitality” did not go together. In fact, Aliens have been known to abduct, rectally probe, illegally cross American borders and steal our jobs. Make sure you look at your word associations. Look at the possitive or negative word associations, how they linger in the culture, and how far away can we get away from anything negative.

Another reason I didn’t go with a Sci-Fi/Planet Mars theme is that some day, probably in your lifetime, we are going to send a man to Mars. Eventually, someone is going to die. The entire world will know about this tragedy. You saw Matt Damon in the Martian, didn’t you? When a dead astronaut is on every newsfeed and news show, checking into a hotel with a cute astronaut or alien would just seem insensitive.

I remember there was this one entry that went with Mars the god of war. My first thought was NO. Some of the countries Red Planet has hotels in have gone through some kind of war in the last couple of decades: civil war, a coup, or rebels in the hills. If you were staying at a foreign country, didn’t know the language well, maybe a little homesick, do you want to be reminded that its possible a war could break out? That mascot was better for a sports team or maybe a video game company. It has nothing to do with hotel hospitality.

I saw a mascot that was a red ant. Red ants bite and you don’t want ants in your hotel room. I saw a lot of well designed robots. There was this one robot that got a lot of votes, but after I won, I found out they wanted to make plush toys.
So to sum it all up, keep away from anything remotely offensive. Next, I’ll be talking about how I designed the character visually.

Freddy the Red Panda © Red Planet Hotels

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