Hot Doughboy: Pillsbury Mascot Crashes Geico Commercial

PHOTO: The Pillsbury Doughboy is featured in commercials for companies other than Pillsbury, including this Geico Insurance advertisement.Courtesy
The Pillsbury Doughboy is featured in commercials for companies other than Pillsbury, including this Geico Insurance advertisement.

Move over, gecko. A new commercial for Geico stars not the insurer's famous lizard but the Pillsbury Doughboy. Huh? How can that pairing possibly make sense?

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Advertising executives say it's just the latest evidence that the Doughboy is hot. Among corporate mascots, he reportedly ranks second in popularity only to Mars candy's talking M&Ms.

"They came to us," Liz Nordlie, Pillsbury's vice president of marketing, said of Geico. It's she who approved the deal to let Poppin' Fresh (the Doughboy's stage name) appear in Geico's commercial. "They came to us with the script. We thought it was appropriate for the Doughboy, so we approved it."

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Oh, and one other thing: Geico paid the entire cost. Pillsbury didn't spend a dime, yet its mascot hogged all the public goodwill that comes from a starring role in a funny commercial.

The TV spot, by the Martin Agency of Richmond, Va., is the most recent in Geico's "Happier Than ..." series of commercials, each of which asks "How happy are people who switch to Geico?" In this case, the answer is: "Happier than the Pillsbury Doughboy on his way to a baking convention."

We see the Doughboy going through airport security. A TSA agent looks suspiciously at a miniature rolling pin she has removed from his itty bitty backpack. Another agent tries to pat the Doughboy down, which results in a lot of giggling (by Poppin', not by the agent). "I'll get it together, I promise," says the chastened cruller. Then, when re-patted, he gives himself up to more giggling.

Well, maybe you had to be there in airport. But it's cute.

This is not the first time Poppin' has appeared in another company's ads. Nordlie said he previously had a cameo in one of MasterCard's "Priceless" commercials. He also appeared in a "Got Milk?" ad.

Asked why Pillsbury loans the Doughboy out, Nordlie said, "We spend a lot on media to promote our brand, to build public awareness by having consumers connect to a lovable character. To have our character well represented in media that someone else is buying is an interesting proposition."

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Which company -- Geico or Pillsbury -- gets more benefit from the ad? Nordlie thinks it's hard to say. Pillsbury has the tools, she said, to link business performance to some specific cause, e.g., improved dough sales from the Doughboy's appearance in an insurance commercial. Such attribution, though, "is not a science."

Geico, asked by ABC News to comment, chose not to.

What new roles might be ahead for the star -- either in Pillsbury's own commercials or those of other companies? Nordlie played it close to the vest. "You never know where he's going to pop up next," she said.

There's little chance of the mascot being rolled too thin, she said, because the mascot's troupe extends beyond Poppin' himself. "There was a whole family at one point," she said, referring to the character's debut in the 1960s. It consisted of a Doughgirl (Poppy), a Doughcat and a Doughdog.