Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Commercials and Mascots...

Once upon a time there used to be pitchmen and pitch-women that appeared on television commercials playing a character. Also, there used to be a time that products used a mascot of some sort or another. Some may consider the characters in those commercials as a mascot. I happened to be born in the mid '70s and so I caught the tail end of a dying era...as a child of the '80s I distinctly remember commercials for various products and each one featured a memorable 'character' or 'mascot'. A lot of these commercials featuring these certain characters had been in production for decades, as I later found out, once I grew older and my nostalgic appreciation became more and more less subtle.

I see a modest revival in contemporary television commercials using 'characters' or personalities to advertise products but it's nothing like it once was. Insurance commercials seem to be at the heart of this whereas in the past it happened to be cereal and other kinds of commercials for domestic items. The commercials that air daily for such insurance companies as All State, Safe Auto, Geico, Progressive, and Farmers tend to stick with a continual character or mascot in a series of highly visible commercials. Geico usually features a British sounding CGI gecko mascot...and in some commercials they've utilized a caveman routine. They're more into the mascot style of advertising, obviously. They've been using the gecko since 1999 and the Caveman idea since 2004. Safe Auto features commercials with Norm McDonald and they're rather funny. Farmers often has a recurring routine of a tour and along the way events happen that call for someone to either get Farmers Insurance or to remind the victim that they've got insurance and so there's nothing to worry about. I did not know the name of the man that appears as the spokesperson in those commercials but I looked it up and it's an actor named J.K. Simmons. His commercials started airing in 2010.

Another actor's name I had to look up, Dennis Haysbert, is the spokesman for All State. His commercials have been airing since around 2007-2008 and they still air.

Progressive, on the other hand, uses the spokesperson, Flo, played by Stephanie Courtney. In a short period of time, Flo has appeared in many TV commercials and her likeness appears on many website banners, too. The character debuted in 2008 and reports state that by 2010 the character had appeared by that time in more than 50 commercials for the insurance company. The commercials continue to air.

Wendy's, a fast food restaurant, once had it's founder, the late Dave Thomas, appearing in humorous commercials. I'm sure a lot of people remember them...not necessarily word for word but you remember his appearances in them, click HERE to see one of them. Those commercials came several years after the massive popularity of the Clara Peller commercials, one in which can be found HERE. She appeared in more commercials for the company that you can search for yourselves if you so desire. A couple of years ago the restaurant unveiled a different spokesperson, Wendy Thomas herself! You can see one of those commercials HERE. However, after several commercials, the on-screen characterization of Wendy was changed from the real Wendy to another spokesperson that more closely resembled the iconic Wendy illustration in the company logo. Accompanied with a new restaurant slogan, Morgan Smith became 'Wendy' in the TV commercials and print advertisements. One of the commercials can be seen HERE.

I rarely see commercials for McDonald's anymore that feature Ronald McDonald or any of the other mascots that populated the commercials: Mayor McCheese, Hamburglar, Fry Guys, Birdie, or Grimace. Research indicates that those mascots were all phased out by the early 2000's but I can't recall even seeing those mascot commercials in my area even then. The characters populated a fictional area called McDonaldland, and it, too, gotten phased out around the same time period. There used to be McDonald's locations that featured a playground area out front based on the McDonaldland characters. There are playground area's still, in some locations, but they've been moved inside and I've never personally been inside any of them to know if any of the rides feature likenesses of those characters or not. You can search You Tube for videos of commercials and you can even Google images of those characters, too. As mentioned, those characters no longer appear on modern-day McDonald's commercials.

One of the commercials featuring Ronald, a class of hamburgers, and the Hamburglar is on You Tube. I've decided to embed that commercial...



Keeping with the mascot theme, certain audiences vividly recall the commercials for the Monster Cereal. In my area there were three major brands that appeared in commercials: Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and Count Chocula. Somewhere along the way it was decided that 'monster cereal' is only profitable during Halloween season and so therefore it's only available on store shelves during a scant few days in late October. This time around the cereals were not sold individually...instead, they were packaged together and being sold in groups of three and so consumers had to purchase all three Monster brands in one deluxe offer (a Triple Pack) or purchase none at all. I was a bit disappointed to see this because, first of all, the selling price was higher due to all three being sold together and secondly, the very heart of those monster cereal commercials played on the competition between the mascots so it didn't seem right to have the three 'competing cereals' being sold together in a Triple-Pack but that's only a minor quibble and one that I don't necessarily feel as if I need to pound the drum complaining about.

The cereals used to be available year round and that's why there used to be a series of animated commercials that ran frequently on television for a couple of decades and NOT just during Halloween season, either. A lot of the commercials featured Frankenberry and Count Chocula bickering over whose cereal is best and a lot of times Boo Berry is left out of the argument...and eventually his appearances in the commercials become almost non-existent except for the display of his cereal at commercial's end. The running joke is that Frankenberry and Count Chocula are actually afraid of ghosts (explaining the reason that the Boo Berry cereal is rarely given as much focus by the actual mascot).

This commercial is billed as the debut of Boo Berry in the commercials...



Mrs. Olson is a character that appeared in Folgers coffee commercials. I remember the character and my parents, at the time, drank that brand before changing to Maxwell House. I used to call an aunt of mine Mrs. Olson because of similar facial features they shared. The commercials aired from the 1960's through the mid 1980's. Nowadays the commercials are lambasted as sexist or called other synonymous expressions but I don't necessarily share those blanket sentiments. One of the black and white commercials can be seen HERE and here's a much later commercial in color...



Mrs. Olson (Virginia Christine) is just one of the handful of live-action 'characters' that appeared in a long running advertising campaign. I mentioned some of the modern day spokespeople for insurance companies earlier in the blog entry but there once was a time where TV commercials regularly consisted of not only Monster cereal, McDonald's, and Mrs. Olson but commercials for dish liquid and paper towels, to name only a few, also became attached to memorable campaign ads.

Jan Miner played the role of Madge in a lengthy commercial series for Palmolive that aired on American television from 1966 through 1992. The commercials, aimed at women, were among the most parodied by comedians. You can see one of those commercials HERE. I couldn't find any late '80s or early '90s English language commercials featuring Jan Miner as Madge but I did come across some American commercials dubbed in a foreign language. One commercial is from 1989 and another from 1990. They're both on You Tube. The clip below is NOT one of the dubbed commercials...it's one of the commercials that ran in America...



"Madge" became one of the biggest characters in advertising, and television in general, during her peak years. As popular as "Flo" is for Progressive Insurance is how popular "Madge" was for Palmolive and the same can be said for Mrs. Olson for Folgers and...

Nancy Walker for Bounty...yes, the actress had a lengthy role as Rosie in a series of commercials for Bounty. In my childhood I'd see those Rosie commercials and, just like a kid, I thought that was her actual name. I also thought this of Mrs. Olson, Madge, and some others. Little does the average kid realize that actors and actresses are playing a character. Nancy portrayed Rosie, according to various on-line sites, for 20 years, 1970-1990. Here's one of her first commercials...from 1971...



...And here's one of Nancy's last commercials for Bounty...from 1989...



There have been a whole lot of mascots and spokespeople for products ranging from food to cars to cigarettes to alcohol to pop to household appliances and pet food. There is one product, though, that is vital to any human being, in my opinion, and a long running series of commercials aired selling this particular product. Along the way I've mentioned iconic characters for McDonald's, Wendy's, the Monster Cereals, Folgers Coffee, Palmolive Dish Liquid, and Bounty paper towels. I hadn't even mentioned Charlie the Tuna for Starkist or the Hostess animated characters or Morris the Cat or even Cap'n Crunch!!

The product that ranks above those for necessity is none...other...than...

Yes, oh yes...how can you not laugh, giggle, or at least smile upon seeing Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin, the product that he regularly and annoyingly told customers not to squeeze? Those commercials, in my opinion, are hilarious and I'd say that toilet paper is a necessity that all humans need!! Dick Wilson portrayed Mr. Whipple in the Charmin television commercials from 1964 through 1985. Some sources cite 1989 as the final year but perhaps that's the year the commercials stopped airing altogether and 1985 is perhaps the year the last first-run commercial had aired (meaning that Charmin commercial reruns took up the final four years of the decade!?). Whatever the case, it was a long and lengthy ad campaign that saw over 500 individual commercials starring Whipple hit the airwaves in that 21 year span. There are several commercials of various vintage on You Tube featuring the character but the humor and overall concept of the commercials are lost on modern day audiences. You can spot this right away if you glance at the comment section for any number of the Charmin commercials. Commentary ranging from opinions like: "oh my!! this guy's really creepy!!" to "this is totally sexist...ogling toilet paper much in the same fashion he'd like to ogle those women...". I'm paraphrasing those comments rather than posting them word for word. It's unfortunate that a majority of those that have discovered these Charmin commercials on You Tube don't enjoy them as I did then and I still enjoy seeing them. The intentional silliness and absurdity is lost on a generation raised primarily on seriousness and political correctness. Watching anything remotely silly, absurd, or goofy is apparently no longer appreciated and is now frowned upon and seen as a waste of time because of the intentional lack of "realism". In later commercials, like the third one I embedded below, they changed the don't squeeze the Charmin approach and had Whipple encouraging people to squeeze the product. This caused much confusion and comedy amongst the various 'shoppers' in the commercials as they had long believed Whipple detested the idea of shoppers squeezing the Charmin but now insisted they do so.

In 1999 they brought Mr. Whipple back in a series of Charmin commercials and those lasted about a year before the animated Charmin Bears took over full time in the commercials.

Mr. Whipple is hilarious and a joy to watch...period...and here's some of that joy right here...








No comments: