Humans have relied on animals since the dawn of time. We have depended on cows for milk, chickens for eggs, elephants for heavy lifting and now jaguars… to sell cars?

Companies go to great lengths to differentiate their products from competitors. From the outset of any successful product development, there will be an equally developed marketing plan. Trademarks and logos are designed to be catchy and appeal to potential customers, where the function of the trademark is to identify the particular trade origin of the product and act as a badge of authenticity and quality.

A great trademark needs to be distinctive while representing the personality or traits of the company or its product. For this reason, animals of all shapes and sizes have been used as trademarks and many have proved to be distinctive and extremely successful. These animal marks have been made use of to describe attributes of a product and as appeals to cultural significance, among many reasons.

So why should a company think about using an animal mark? If the age old saying “a picture speaks a thousand words” is correct, then the use of an animal in a trademark can speak measures about the company in an instant.

“Dove” alludes to being soft and gentle, the desired outcome of using skincare products. “Mustang” suggests power and speed, the attributes sought after in a Ford® sports car. The fox indicates agility and responsiveness, the manner in which you want your Firefox® internet browser to function. Even if the animal has no association to the company or product, it can create a memorable image – I have read many, many books in my life, but if someone were to ask me to name a publisher, my first response will be Penguin®.

The use of an animal as a trademark opens up countless avenues when branding, where keywords associated with certain animals can be creatively entwined with product functions, or make for the purrrrfect punchy marketing tagline! Take Twitter® for example, its logo is a little blue bird and it has coined the term “tweet” to describe social media posts, which now reach more than 500 million people a day! This is much more memorable than Facebook®’s “post” to a newsfeed. This simple association shows the company’s charisma and adds a lighthearted feel to what is otherwise a cold, technical process.

If the animal mark captures the imagination of the masses, the mark itself can become a huge source of profit through merchandising. Rovio’s Angry Birds® is a hugely successful game application, which has now been downloaded over two billion times. Based on the initial Angry Birds® game, Rovio has introduced a long line of products bearing the Angry Birds® mark, which includes plush toys, clothing, cartoons, comics, accessories and soft drinks. Now, 45% of Rovio’s business comes from physical products. It would be hard to imagine the game and its brand reaching such heights without its association to a cute, plump and playful bird.

Similarly, through clever marketing over the years, Hello Kitty® immediately brings to mind an image of a charming feline, and the mark or the 3D model of the mark has been replicated in hundreds of products, including – would you believe it – engine lubricant oil, generating millions of dollars for its owner, Sanrio Co. Ltd.

While there have been many success stories of companies using animal marks, such as Angry Birds®, Hello Kitty®, Puma®, Red Bull® and Mickey Mouse®, there are a few issues of which companies should beware before adopting an animal as their face.

When filing a trademark, the mark is filed in respect of certain classes of goods. Therefore, if a company expands and decides to enter new product classes, there may be a chance that the animal mark chosen exists in the other class. In which case, the company expanding, even if much larger and more well-known, may not be able to use the mark in the new market.

Also, animals as symbols are culturally loaded and need to be handled cautiously. When choosing an animal or a beast as a mark, cultural perceptions need to be taken into account, as perceptions among different communities can be at stark opposites. For instance, in China, the dragon is a symbol of the emperor which is the giver of power, strength and prosperity, whereas in Western cultures, the dragon is often depicted as a violent fire-breathing demon or monster which represents darkness, paganism and heresy.

Not only do animals represent different things to different cultures, but a simple variation in the depiction of an animal could portray the wrong message. Take the elephant, which in Feng Shui alone has several different meanings; with its trunk up, the elephant is seen as a symbol of prosperity, good luck and victory, with a its trunk down, the elephant is seen as a symbol of fertility and longevity, and two elephants with intertwined trunks are symbolic of friendship and love.

Notwithstanding these issues, an animal can be a powerful trademark representing a company or product. Animal marks, if used well, can help companies and products stand out in crowded marketplaces and give its owner a personal point of difference and a unique competitive edge. It appears that even in the corporate world, walking a dog can get you a date!

Now some food for thought… would you adopt a picture of a rhinoceros as a trademark for women’s skincare products?