Mascots Vie to Be No. 1 Ad Icon

Don't laugh at the hyperactive pink bunny or the 7-foot-tall peanut in spats. Mascots are our masters. They tell us which cereal to eat, which batteries to put in our CD player. Respect the bunny. All hail the peanut.

This week, Mr. Peanut and the Energizer Bunny are not only selling their products, they're selling themselves, competing with 24 other advertising icons in an online vote to be America's No. 1 advertising icon.

It's Mr. Peanut vs. Mr. Clean; the Michelin Man vs. the Coppertone Girl; Ronald McDonald vs. the Jolly Green Giant.

Will the M&M Spokescandies put the squeeze on the California Raisins? Can McGruff the Crime Dog take a bite out of the AFLAC Duck?

If you mistake this for the Olympics, you're as cuckoo as the Coco Puffs bird. Still, the top five vote-getters will have their names immortalized in concrete on Madison Avenue's new Advertising Walk of Fame.

At a TV news conference to kick things off, Miss Chiquita went negative, pointing out that Mr. Clean was full of chemicals, while Woodsy Owl vowed to stop candidates from trash-talking.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch lectured Tony the Tiger, the Kool-Aid Pitcher and other mascots on the finer political points of hand-shaking and baby kissing. The Wise Potato Chip Owl handed out campaign buttons, as Ronald McDonald bragged about being endorsed by Mayor McCheese.

Maybe this entire election smacks of self-promotion. But isn't that true of all politics? And it's still interesting to see who will be the master of the mascots.

The results will be revealed Sept. 20 as part of Advertising Week in New York City, when industry leaders gather in New York. Fans can vote for their favorite at http://promotions.yahoo.com/advertisingweek_2004.

Just as important, now that these icons are candidates in an election, we can scrutinize them more closely.

At first I wondered why the St. Pauli Girl wasn't in the running. Then I learned that at least four former St. Pauli Girls have posed in Playboy, including Heather Kozar (Playmate of the Year 1999), Neriah Davis (Miss March 1994), Jaime Bergman (Miss January 1999) and Lisa Dergan (Miss July 1998). "Being in Playboy doesn't hurt your chances to be the St. Pauli Girl," says Dergan, who worked for St. Pauli last year and is now a Fox Sports Net reporter. "You actually make a better product representative."

Even the cleanest of corporate mascots can't help but get involved in a little bit of controversy.

Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy, made a comeback a few years ago with a noticeable tummy tuck, perhaps to keep his career from going stale. Still, you'll never see him shot from behind, because he's very sensitive about his buns.

Let's just call these mascots products of their environment, and let's take a look at a few.

1. Battery Bunny Wars

The Energizer Bunny keeps going and going and going. But he wasn't the first pink bunny to sell batteries on TV. That honor goes to the forgotten Duracell Bunny. The Energizer Bunny is something of a copycat.

In a 1974 TV commercial, Duracell demonstrated its long-lasting alkaline batteries with a mechanical toy rabbit beating on a drum, racing other battery-powered rabbits, and always winning.

Energizer introduced its own "spokes-hare" in 1989, to take on Duracell, after Duracell's rabbit retired.

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