When Nick Parish read about the new Chuck E. Cheese mascot, a slick 3D mouse that plays the electric guitar, he immediately thought of an epsiode of The Simpsons where Poochie, the sunglasses-wearing, skateboarding dog, joins the Itchy & Scratchy Show in a bid to boost falling ratings. The North American editor for Contagious, a U.K.-based advertising and marketing magazine, calls the Chuck E. Cheese mouse an “amalgam of a desperate move and a bunch of focus-group information,” which is exactly Lisa Simpson’s sentiment before Poochie is hastily killed off.
But desperate times call for desperate mascots. Revenue at most of the 500 U.S. Chuck E. Cheese locations, operated by CEC Entertainment Inc., fell over four per cent in the first quarter of this year, and supercharging the 35-year-old, bucktoothed mouse mascot is a clear effort to save the brand. The company hired the Richards Group ad agency, which found that mothers in particular didn’t think of the chain, famous for its video games and pizza parties, as a family experience. The rock star mouse is meant to unify generations by tapping into their universal love for music.
Chuck E. Cheese isn’t the first brand to sack its mascot, but the comments on the company’s Facebook page (“My childhood is gone”) prove that rebranding is tricky. Last year, McDonald’s upped efforts to remake itself as a healthy restaurant, which involved relegating Ronald McDonald to Happy Meal packaging and instead showcasing new products such as smoothies and chicken wraps in ads. Burger King’s mascot was axed altogether recently in favour of ads that featured vegetables being washed and diced.
While making radical changes, both companies distracted customers with a value proposition—healthier food. “The opportunity was for Chuck E. Cheese to say, ‘We’re going to do a better job of entertaining your children,’ ” says Parish. “Burger King didn’t put the King in a BMW. This feels like [Chuck E. Cheese] is slapping on a new coat of paint and expecting more customers.”