The key to successThe commercial and reputational success of a football championship is a composite of numerous factors. The official mascot is one of the key ones. No wonder the choice of mascot has been taken so seriously by the hosts of every world championship since the one hosted by the UK in 1966. It was then, nearly half a century ago, that a FIFA World Cup got its first mascot, a lion named Willie, dressed in Union Jack colours. Now World Cup mascots are a team.
Later on, Willie would be joined by Sombrero-wearing Mexican boy Juanito, his fellow Mexican Pique the jalapeno pepper, German boys Tip and Tap, their Argentine peer Gauchito, Naranjito the Spanish orange, Ciao the Italian stick figure, Striker the World Cup Pup, Footix the French cockerel, mysterious Japanese and South Korean creatures Ato, Kaz and Nik, Willie’s fellow feline from Germany Goleo VI, South African leopard Zakumi, and Fuleco the Brazilian armadillo. The team is soon to be joined by a new character, this time a Russian one. And it’s destined to make history, like all his predecessors.
“Make history” is the right way to put it. World Cup championships command enormous audiences: the statistics are well known. The television audience of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil exceeded 3 billion. Over 1 million people visited the host country for this “football carnival.” Of all the World Cup participants, who is the person most visible to the fans? A sports administrator? a star player? Not at all!
Although experts, when they discuss various aspects of the tournament, will use a much blander appellation: “key marketing tool.”
The mascot, that’s who! The mascot welcomes them and bids them farewell, the mascot amuses the fans at the stadium and on the website, the mascot advertises upcoming games on posters. The mascot is a personification of the tournament
The mascot reaches its “adulthood” long before the championship. It’s part of its job to boost the audience, recruiting primarily young people, and to promote the tournament and all the values it stands for, like pride, hope, the foretaste of real football, hospitality of the host nation, its passion for football, and its respect for fair play. The official mascot is one of the most widely used and most recognizable elements of the official World Cup identikit. The mascot travels the world, it’s featured in print products and animation videos, gets printed on gifts and t-shirts, and “comes alive” as a stuffed toy or a puppet.
Long story short, being a mascot is hard work. That’s why creating a mascot is also hard work, consisting of many stages.
Candidate mascotsThe mascot is already in the works. Over 50,000 Russians voted for their favourite candidate on talisman.fifa.com, picking a character they figured was best suited to represent the Russian World Cup. The potential candidates included animals, symbols of Russia’s achievements in space exploration and high technology, and legendary creatures.
The resulting shortlist named the top ten candidates: Amur Tiger, Bogatyr (fabulous warrior from Russian folklore), Wolf, Far Eastern Leopard, Firebird, Alien, Cosmonaut, Cat, Bear and Robot. Online voters were also asked to vote for the qualities they wanted the mascot to possess. These qualities made the shortlist: Active, Generous, Fun, Hospitable, Cheerful, A Team Player, Agile, Smart, Goal-Oriented, and Honest.
For the competition that kicked off on 15 September, the entrants are asked to pick one of the top ten characters, and make a mascot out of it.
Only art school students will be admitted, singly or in groups. The number of participants per school is unlimited, but each entrant may submit only one work
The young designers have a whole database of material to pick and choose from. The voters didn’t vote only for the characters, but also selected outfits and accessories for their favourite candidate. No surprises there: soccer boots, a cap, a football, socks, gloves, backpack, whistle, t-shirt, watch, and scarf. Not that the mascot has to have all those qualities or all the listed gear. It has to have one or two qualities from the popular vote, and a few accessories from the online shortlist.
People’s idea of a mascot is one thing, but the World Cup Organizing Committee has articulated its own standards. The main character of the football fest has to be male, and has to look active, sporty, and passionate about football. It has to look cute, too, in order to appeal to the target audience (we’re speaking mainly of kids aged 6 to 16, although adults must not be forgotten). The mascot has to unite the players and the fans, representing the values they share. The mascot’s posture and attitude must synergize with the strengths of its design.
It is important to remember that the mascot will be circulated as toys of every size and description, and in the form of pins and fridge magnets. Moreover, the mascot has to blend in well with the rest of the World Cup symbolism, so aspiring entrants are advised to study every detail of the official emblem, which already exists. Last but not least, FIFA stands for these four core values, which the mascot must resonate with: authenticity, unity, performance and integrity.
Stages of successThe website talisman.fifa.com became available for entrant registrations on 15 September, the day the competition opened. Candidates will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement and an agreement to assign the copyright to the International Football Federation (FIFA).
But before you register, you’d do well to think about your project description, which you’ll have to write and submit to the Organizing Committee. You are granted a limit of two hundred words to answer these key questions: why did you choose this character? why do you think it will appeal to the target audience? what are its distinctive features? what features define its Russian provenance? how will it play the role of the “face” of the tournament? what will the fans worldwide think of it?
It’s a good idea to keep a paper or computer journal while you work, making notes as you go from step to step in your creative process, recording your inspirations and explaining your design ideas. FIFA may request your journal to put it up for public cognizance and for the purposes of copyright registration, if your entry makes it through the first round of selection.
The submission deadline for completed graphic files is 15 November. The file may be submitted in 2D or 3D format. Once you submit, the ball is in the court of FIFA, the Organizing Committee, and their jury of experts. They will check the design for legal compliance, and will cull the works that best conform to the World Cup criteria. Needless to say, you have to have those criteria at your fingertips. For example, your mascot design may not include a national flag, emblem, or any element belonging to a third party. If the mascot is an anthropomorphic character, it has to wear the full football uniform: shorts, t-shirt, boots and shin guards (you may use the Russian national team colours, but you may not replicate the uniform’s design). The boots and guards are not required if the mascot is not an anthropomorphic character, but the shorts and t-shirt are a must.
There’s a bunch of other things to think about.
The mascot must reflect the Russian World Cup values, it must look good as a life-size puppet in the middle of kicking a football, it must be easy to use in e-systems, in 3D animation, in print products, and so on.
To maximize their chances of winning, the entrants are advised to read all the nuanced requirements very carefully on the website.
The jury will pick three finalists after 15 November. It’s a major achievement in its own right to make the top three as this means creative acclaim and excellent career opportunities. FIFA and the Organizing Committee will name the three laureates in February 2016. The creators of the top three entries selected, whether individual students or teams, will be invited to Moscow for a gala ceremony, to bask in the rays of well-deserved glory.
Fame is just one of the perks that await the laureates. The winning entries will be processed by a professional animation agency appointed by FIFA. We’re talking an elite agency, staffed by animators of worldwide renown. The perk for the finalist here is that he or she is guaranteed to take part in the fine-tuning, working with the best in the field for three months. Can anyone think of a better internship? It is very possible that the world-class masters will not forget the creator, if they like the design. The history of World Cups and other high-profile international tournaments proves that the creators of successful mascots, emblems or similar designations find top jobs right off the bat.
The final winner, whose mascot becomes the face of the 2018 World Cup, will reap even more laurels.
The official mascot presentation, a key highlight in the run-up towards the championship, will come a little later. The creator of the winning mascot will be celebrated together with their creation, and this will probably define the creator’s career from there on out.
The winner will be named after a nationwide vote in September 2016
Mascots have long lives, and the 2018 World Cup mascot will surely outlive the championship. In the UK, Willie the Lion, which won gold for England in the 1966 World Cup, still puts smiles of people’s faces.