It seems a simple enough question to ask, what are the most memorable ad characters of all time? Most people could name icons from their childhood, rattle off the taglines that remain to this day on the tip of their tongues or identify their children’s favorite characters, but ask them which of those are the best and why, and challenges arise. We’ve chosen the following characters based on the stories of their conception, their development over the decades and their lasting cultural significance.
The Michelin Man has lived through the entirety of both the tire and automobile industries. He debuted in 1898 after being crafted by the company’s owners, brothers André and Édouard Michelin. The first Michelin Man was a mummy-like tire king named Bibendum, who held a glass filled with nails and broken glass at a banquet table. The copy in the first ad boasted that Michelin tires "drink up obstacles," or don't easily puncture, and featured the tire man toasting "Nunc est bibendum," or, “Now is the time to drink”.
A seemingly curious strategy, it is important to remember that motoring and bicycling—any sport that required Michelin tires—were activities for the well-educated elite. The tire king, white because tires were then made from white rubber, was well received in France and later even more so throughout Europe and the U.S.
Introduced to the American public in 1914, The Morton Salt Girl is the consummate example of how a single image can drive the story of a product. When Morton Salt began a national advertising campaign to promote a new humidity-friendly loose salt container, the little girl with the umbrella was pitched as a product icon. She was quickly adopted by the company and has seen few changes in the hundred years since. Even the tagline chosen for that initial ad - “When It Rains It Pours” - remains to this day.
In 1916 a fourteen year old boy from suburban Pennsylvania won a Planters Peanuts new logo contest. His drawing of the anthropomorphized “Peanut Man” was the first generation of the now iconic monocle wearing, cane-bearing Mr. Peanut. Having appeared on almost every Planters package and advertisement since, Mr. Peanut is now even on Madison Ave’s Advertising Walk of Fame. His real name, if you wondered, is Mr. Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe, but as with all true sophisticates, he prefers to go by Mr. Peanut.
The Jolly Green Giant, the gentle mascot of the Minnesota Valley Canning Co., was once not very jolly or green at all. Inspired by a character from Grimm's Fairy Tales, he was named after an oversized variety of pea and was hunched, scruffy, and a bit barbaric. Thanks to Leo Burnett, he was quickly treated to a makeover (and a chiropractor.) The success of his rebranding was evident by 1950 when the company dubbed themselves the Green Giant Company. He is now commemorated by a 55-foot statue in Minnesota.
The result of a mascot contest for Kellogg's new Frosted Flakes cereal, Tony the Tiger won the public's affection during the 1950s through radio and television campaigns that featured the friendly animated tiger chatting with real celebrities. With a very recognizable voice and catchphrase, the character was extended in the 1970s when he was given an Italian-American nationality and family. One of the few icons not frozen in time, Tony the Tiger reigned supreme until the 2000s when he officially retired and bequeathed his title to his brawny, sports-loving son Tony Jr. The legacy lies in the company's loyalty to the simple catch phrase, “They're Grrrrreat!” and its delivery, of course, which hasn't changed since its inception.
An incredible departure from how we now consider the brand, Marlboros were initially introduced in 1924 as the lady’s cigarette. They became even less popular with men in the 1950s after studies showed that smoking caused cancer. It was the simple need to popularize filtered cigarettes that flipped the brand on its head. Marlboros were infused with machismo and in their renaissance one of the most influential icons was born. Masculinity, independence and freedom further became the cornerstones of the brand with the creation of Marlboro Country, a place where a man would forever be able to ride off into the sunset.
Horatio Magellan Crunch, better known as Cap’n Crunch, came of age in the early 1960s, when Saturday morning cartoons defined children’s weekends all across America. Through this, the Quaker Oats Company sought to appeal to kids through adventure and storytelling. Animation renegade Jay Ward created Cap’n Crunch, then gave him a personality, a ship, a kid crew and a pup sidekick. In both the commercials and the comic books that accompanied cereal boxes, Cap’n Crunch and his crew faced the cereal-stealing pirate Jean LaFoote and “crunchatized” any problems that arose.
In 1963 McDonalds had just sold 1 billion hamburgers and attained 500 restaurants across the country. They hoped for a new mascot to grow with the rising company, as the hamburger-headed Speedee wasn't doing much for brand recognition.The company hired a man named Willard Scott, the creator of a very successful show called Bozo’s Circus, to create a new mascot to aid brand recognition.
After the launch of the now ubiquitous Ronald McDonald, hamburger sales rose a rapid 30%. Although Ronald McDonald is from humble beginnings— the first costume had a paper cup nose and a cardboard tray hat— Ronald was named the company’s CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) in 2003 and is one of the most internationally recognized icons of all time.
The Pillsbury Doughboy, the smiley icon built to personify freshness, is another product of a Leo Burnett round table brainstorm. Once a simple plaster puppet with five bodies and fifteen heads, he entered American kitchens in 1965 via stop-motion animation.
Featured from the outset with a chef’s hat and portrayed as a friendly kitchen helper, the Doughboy has since been reconfigured into an opera singer, a rapper, a rock star, a poet, a painter, a ballet dancer, a skydiver and a skateboarder. He also plays the harmonica, the accordion and the electric guitar. Oh, and the bugle, when he’s not too busy giggling.
If advertising icons were categorized as archetypes, the Energizer Bunny would be “The Trickster.” When Energizer sought a way to edge ahead of its competitor Duracell in the late 1980s, the company launched a direct parody campaign. Appropriating the icon that Duracell had been using for 15 years and recycling their claim, they convinced consumers that, no, their batteries were longer-lasting. Why? Because they said so.
© Jugular 2013