Classic Advertising Characters Part I
Oh, what companies won’t do to get us to spend a buck. Hot chicks, funny characters, crazy catch phrases; it all adds up to brainwashing us into buying the latest product from whatever company is shilling to us at the time. How many of you haven’t answered a telephone “WAAAASAAAAAAP?!” or told the person next to you, “I love you, man”? Commercials are ingrained into our pop culture. As a consequence, some of the crazy characters that star in these commercials are also ingrained into our consciousness. We laugh at them, we quote them, we eventually make fun of them, then find a new favorite and start the cycle all over again.
I was thinking of a few commercials the other day that I loved when I was a kid and this article was born from that train of thought. I initially came up with about eight advertising characters I loved (and then a few more while writing this) and decided to split this article into two parts. You’ll get the first group today, and maybe the rest next week. Seeing as next week is Turkey Week, it’s a crap shoot whether I get it finished.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite forgotten advertising characters. I’m focusing mostly on retired characters, so you won’t see Jolly Green Giant, Mr. Clean or the Brawny lumberjack on here because they are still in active use. If I’ve not mentioned one of your favorites, let me have it in the comments!
Swedish Bikini Team (SBT) – In 1991 Old Milwaukee invented the idea of a team of “Swedish” beauties whose primary talent was wearing bikinis. Suprisingly, the Nobel committee ignored this achievement (probably too visionary an idea). Not quite suprisingly, all of the team members were actually American models wearing platinum blond wigs. The idea was funny and the commercials were clever and ran for a year or two. The SBT even started making appearances outside of their commercials in tv shows, videos and an issue of Playboy magazine. I thought that this team was defunct because they are no longer in any commercials, however they still have an official website and make appearances, but I don’t think they are still affiliated with Old Milwaukee. You can see one of their commercials here. Even today, the idea of a team of bikini wearing models set to improve the lives of men by delivering cold beer brings a tear to my eye.
Frito Bandito – From 1967 to 1971 the Frito Bandito, a wonderful kaleidescope of generic Mexican stereotypes, was the animated spokesman for Frito Corn Chips. Interestingly, he was animated by none other than Tex Avery (One of the original Warner Bros animators) and voiced by the great Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck). The character was very similar to another Blanc creation, Speedy Gonzales. The Bandito became popular enough that it would eventually lead to lawsuits by the National Mexican-American Defamation League which, in turn, led to his final retirement. You can see an early Frito Bandito commercial here. He was later followed by the talking Corn Chip Chimichanga (just kidding).
Fruit Brute/Yummy Mummy – I mentioned these cereals in my last Halloween article. Fruit Brute the werewolf was introduced in 1975 and discontinued in 1983. Yummy Mummy was introduced in 1988 and then discontinued in 1993. You can still see these characters pop up in merchandise including bobble head dolls and resin kits.
Ernest P. Worrell – The character of Ernest P. Worrell (as portrayed by Jim Varney) was created by the ad agency Carden & Cherry and first used in a commercial in 1980 for an amusement park called Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Ernest was a country-bumpkin type charater supposedly modeled after Andy Griffith’s Ernest T. Bass. Ernest would show up in local commercials over the next several years before landing a national sponser with Sprite in the ’90s. Ernest also starred in his own series of movies to mixed critical acclaim (Ernest Saves Christmas is easily the funniest one). In 2000, Jim Varney died of lung cancer while in post-production on the movie Ernest the Pirate (which has remained unreleased). Check out one of Ernest’s Sprite commercials here.
Jacko – Jacko was an Australian football player who, after retirement, became a singing sensation (wha-?) in his native Australia. Despite being completely unknown to American audiences, Energizer hired him as a spokesman. The commercials became extremely popular as they showed an animated Jacko yelling “NEW ENTERGIZER, IT’LL SURPRISE YA!!” then punctuating it with a loud “OY!” which became his catchphrase. I personally liked these commercials and couldn’t get his Australian accent yelling his dialogue at the people next to him out of my head. I still can’t. Check out one of his commercials and see if you can get it out…short of putting a bullet in your brain.
Well, there you have the first group of classic advertising characters. You should remember most of those, and you may have been reminded of a favorite long forgotten. I have a second group of these guys set to go as soon as I can compile the information. Look for that early next week, I hope.
Have a good weekend everyone.