Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Best and the Worst: Product Spokespersons

If you were in charge of marketing for your company, you'd want to make sure that the spokesperson in your television commercials was someone that would make your product appealing, someone that the general public would view as entertaining, or trustworthy, or (let's be honest) scorchingly hot.  You would not, for example, choose Christopher Walken to be the face of OshKosh children's clothing, nor would you name Mike Tyson as the cornerstone of your "Welcome to the History Channel" ad campaign.  Selecting just the right actor, celebrity, or even a specially-created fictional personality is absolutely critical in the success of your company's public relations and marketing.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the best and the worst of what TV commercials have to offer.


1. Flo (Progressive Insurance)

This bitch is so artificially perky and genuinely annoying that I wouldn't buy Progressive insurance if they offered a free policy and agreed to mow my front lawn every week.  Seriously, I could toss Flo into a friggin' wood chipper and whistle "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" as the machine chewed her scrawny ass to bits.

The absolute worst of the Progressive commercials (and they're all pretty damn irritating) is the one where she responds with a grating "DISCOUNT!" to everything a potential customer says.  Are you a safe driver?  DISCOUNT!  Do you own a home?  DISCOUNT!  Do you want to whack me in the head with a Ping seven-iron?  DISCOUNT!

And what's with that name, "Flo"?  No one under the age of sixty is named "Flo," in fact, the name pretty much died out when the TV show Alice went off the air.  Come to think of it, that Flo was just as obnoxious as the insurance lady and they even kind of look alike.

2. Clara Peller (Wendy's)

We've got to go back to the mid-1980's for our next P.R. nightmare, the infamous "Where's the Beef?" lady Clara Peller.  I was unfortunate enough to have actually been working at Wendy's during this campaign, and let me tell you, you have no idea how absolutely infuriating it was to have every other customer ask "Where's the Beef?!" at the drive-through window.  I must've heard that phrase fifty times a shift, and every single time, the douchebag who said it thought it was the funniest thing since Ex-lax brownies.

At the time, the Wendy's people were quick to point out that Ms. Peller was not a trained actress, in fact, she was working as a manicurist on a commercial set when someone thought that her unique voice would make her perfect for ad work.  Whoever that person is, I hope he dies a slow painful death involving red ants, or maybe piranha.

Anyway, for about a year, you couldn't get away from the phrase "WHERE'S THE BEEF?!"  Walter "Three Electoral Votes" Mondale even used the slogan in his Democratic Primary battle against Gary Hart.  Let's face it, if Walter Mondale thinks your ad campaign is cool, it's time to fire your advertising agency.

3. Burger King (Burger King . . . duh)

Okay, to start with, the creation of the "Burger King" character is such a blatant rip off of "Jack" from Jack in the Box, that whoever came up with the idea should be ashamed of himself.  But beyond that, this guy is just plain creepy.  His facial expression never changes, he doesn't talk, and he's not even entertaining.  In various commercials, he breaks into someone's home and scares the shit out of him, infiltrates McDonald's headquarters and steals their hamburger recipe (have we no shame?), and I believe in one spot the Burger King sneaks into an animal shelter and suffocates a dozen golden retriever puppies.  He's not a burger magnate, he's a psychopath.  Have it my way, you say?  Okay, my way is to get rid of this freakish whack job and replace him with, well, pretty much anyone.  Except Flo the Insurance Lady.

4. Mr. Six (Six Flags)

Okay, the Six Flags commercials might be regional, so if you have no idea who this idiot is, consider your self lucky.  "Mr. Six" looks like the love child of George Burns and that turtle from the Bugs Bunny cartoons and doesn't do much besides dance around like a maniac.  I guess the sight of an old man dancing is supposed to be funny, but it's really, really sad.  He's not even an old man, he's a young guy wearing a rubber face and a pair of Harry Caray's old eyeglasses.

Naming this guy "Mr. Six" was a stroke of idiocy.  I mean, really, is that the best they could come up with?  What was THAT writers' meeting like?

"Okay, we've got to think of a name for this guy.  Hmmmm.  It's for Six Flags Amusement Parks . . . "

"I've got it!  How about Mr. Amusement Park?"

"Not bad, let's keep that in mind.  Anyone else?"

"Roller Coaster Guy?"

"Mr. Flags?"

"Wait!  Call off the dogs!  The search is over . . . we'll call him . . . Mister Six!  Get it?  SIX Flags?"

"Murphy, you're a genius!  Let's go have lunch."

The most recent Six Flags ad campaign has Mr. Six comparing mundane activities like tossing a ball of yarn to your cat (ONE FLAG!) with riding a Six Flags roller coaster like X or Deja Vu (SIX FLAGS!).  Originally, the star of these commercials was an Asian dude, but apparently someone complained that his cheers of "ONE FRAG!", "SIX FRAGS" was a racist stereotype.  Too bad, because I actually thought that guy was pretty funny.  Mr. Six, on the other hand, is just weird.

5. Mr. Whipple (Charmin)

We're going "old school" on this one.

Mr. Whipple was a grocer (I think) who had an almost obsessive attitude toward protecting his store's supply of Charmin toilet tissue from potential squeezers.  Whenever one of Whipple's female customers picked up a package of Charmin, she couldn't resist the temptation to squeeze it because Charmin is so ridiculously soft and squeezable.  Whipple, for whatever reason, had a problem with this and would glare at these women and snarl, "Hey, bitches, don't squeeze my fuckin' Charmin."  Okay, maybe he didn't put it quite that way but he wanted to.  You could see it in his eyes.

Personally, I think Mr. Whipple should've gotten together with Rosie, the "Quicker Picker Upper" lady from the Bounty paper towel commercials.  They would've been a match made in paper goods heaven.


1. Jack (Jack in the Box)

In my mind, this is the best of the best.  Whoever thought of taking a completely ridiculous character like a jack-in-the-box and turning him into a serious (yet whimsical) CEO deserves a spot right next to Karl Malden in the Television Commercial Hall of Fame.  Honestly, who would ever think of making a clown their company's Chief Executive Officer?

Okay, BP, good point.

Yeah, Enron too, I forgot about them.

Still, this guy is simply awesome.  From giving that stoner kid a discount on his tacos to sitting at his desk making his sandwiches talk, Jack is the very embodiment of sound leadership.  His implementation of "Bowl Haircut Day" to promote the Jack-in-the-Box breakfast bowls was brilliant.

I'd work for him any day.

2. The Most Interesting Man in the World (Dos Equis)

The debonair Dos Equis representative is truly a man's man (but the ladies love him too).  He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels.  He speaks French . . . in Russian.  Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact.  His personality is so magnetic, he can't carry credit cards.  He never says that anything tastes like chicken . . . not even chicken.  He lives vicariously through himself.  He's a lover not a fighter, but he's also a fighter so don't get any ideas.  Chuck Norris carries a picture of him in his wallet.

This is what endorsing a product is all about.  The Most Interesting Man Alive gives Dos Equis (a mediocre to above average beer at best) credibility.  He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis.  And therefore, so should you.

3. Rapping Hamsters (Kia)

I'll be the first to admit it, there is no logical reason whatsoever that I should like these guys.  I hate hip-hop, I don't like hamsters, and I would never in a million years purchase a Kia Soul (or any other Kia, for that matter).  But the Hamstars are friggin' hilarious.  Sure, they're a little bit racist and gangster, but watching those fat furry bodies dance to the catchy lyrics "You can get with this, you can get with that . . . doo-dah-dippity . . . " makes me smile every time.  I especially dig the one in the white hoodie.  He's got some moves.

4. Caveman (Geico)

As time's gone on these commercials have gotten less and less clever, but when they first hit the airwaves the originality and humor was almost revolutionary.  It started out with a basic idea, is so simple even a caveman can do it.  The point is made, and if it went no further, no one would've cared.  But then, cut to a restaurant where the Geico representative is being forced to apologize to a couple Neanderthals (or maybe Australopithicusses, they never really specify) who were offended by the insulting catch phrase.  The banter is priceless.

"Seriously, we apologize.  We had no idea you guys were still around."

"Yeah, next time maybe do a little research."

"Are you gentlemen ready to order?"

"I'll have the roast duck with mango salsa."

"I don't have much of an appetite."

A few of the other caveman spots were clever, but none ever matched the pure genius of the original.  Classic.

5. Sonny the Cuckoo (Cocoa Puffs)

Okay, perhaps he came across as a hopped-up cereal junkie.  Some kids may have even found him frightening.  But when it comes to simplifying your message, you just can't get any clearer than "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."  Sonny will live forever in my memory because back in the mid-80's, when I was working as a salesmen at Radio Shack, my boss who we'll call Bob (because that was his name) would use the phrase "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" in almost any situation.

"Bob, this lady wants to return her Realistic tape recorder because the rewind button doesn't work."

"Well, that just makes me cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

"Bob, any chance we could get an increase in our sales commission this month?"

"What are you, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?"

"Hey, Bob, Jennifer called in sick again."

"That woman is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

On and on it went.

Cereal companies have always been pretty good at creating friendly and charming characters -- Tony the Tiger, Dig 'Em the Frog, Cap'n Crunch, etc. -- but Sonny was neither friendly nor charming.  He was just plain nuts.

And that's why we love him.


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Mariann Simms said...

I hate Flo so much I devoted an entire blog to the annoying jerk. I really can't stand those commercials.

I have to say...I do like Bob. You know Bob...he's "living large and has a whole new swing on life". I think he's the Enzyte guy or something...but I must say those commercials never fail to make me laugh.

A couple of these guys you mentioned - we have none of the franchises here, so I've not seen the commercials.

I'd still like to hit Flo, tho.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

I think Flo is based on Drug Company sales reps. And I see quite a few.

Moooooog35 said...

I would take Flo off the list and then do her and replace her #1 spot with the Six Flags guy because he makes me want to KILL KILL KILL.

Just me? No, right?

Eva Gallant said...

I LOVE the rapping hamsters! That is my all time favorite commercial! I did not like the cavemen on the Geico commercial. I dislike all those commercials immensely.

Eva Gallant said...

I LOVE the rapping hamsters! That is my all time favorite commercial! I did not like the cavemen on the Geico commercial. I dislike all those commercials immensely.

Heff said...

I'm familiar with ALL OF THESE, unfortunately. I beg to differ with you about Progressive's "Flo", though.

I'd LOVE to diminish my deductible in her policy declarations....

jdemott said...

The Burger King guy is creepy no doubt.

I laugh at some of the Geico commercials. The ones they did with the celebrities were funny, though I can't now even remember who they used. I think it's interesting how they run varied campaigns simultaneously. They must have a HUGE ad budget. About every commercial break has a Geico commercial.

Hate that Six Flags guy.

Flo doesn't bother me so much on the commercials. But, I had to go to a Progressive center once for an adjustor appraisal on a repair job, and her face was plastered all over that place. Annoying.

There was a product in the 70s called Oven Fry, a coating for chicken, to make it seem like fried though it was to be baked in the oven. There was a little old lady who responded like on a seemingly streetside interview about the product... "Fried chicken in the oven... is a... is a TREAT." I think her name was like Flossie Penney or something similarly old-ladyish and cartoonlike. She was the equivalent of "Where's The Beef" lady before the Wendy's commercial came out, but with less exuberance.

Quirkyloon said...

What about Justin Case? He's vying for a "most annoying" spot too.

AND... I like the Mr. Six Flags dude. I love the music!

heh heh

Stacie's Madness said...

i couldn't agree more...except I like Flo, but not the womanly flo, if you know what I mean.

the BK guy is just plain creepy.

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

The relationship between advertising spokespeople and sales of a product are chancy at best. It's not uncommon for a brand with a universally-hated front-man to enjoy brisk sales, while another brand with someone everyone loves flounders.

But I can't help feeling that the Burger King guy is a secret plot by McDonald's to kill off their competition.

One I loved (from the late '70s, early '80s, I believe) was an old poker-playing woman who, when asked about Coffee Mate, would blandly declare: "It's okay." This understatement works well for me and is part of the reason I like the Dos Equis guy. As you say, he "doesn't always drink beer," but when he does, he "prefers Dos Equis."

I'm waiting to see how the sports guy shilling for Old Spice does with his YouTube videos. I'm betting that it does nothing for sales, but Bob Hoffman (The Ad Contrarian), with whom I almost always agree, thinks the spots will work. So far the sales figures are on my side, but as Bob has pointed out, there's something a bit fishy with the numbers.

ReformingGeek said...

I love Jack but I don't know "Jacksh*t".

YIPPEE-YO for Flo but the Caveman can GO.

Travelocity's gnomes are next door at my neighbor's house.

The Invisible Seductress said...

I do like the hamsters. And I like the Geico ghecko too. And that dog stealing the bean recipe. The Burger King guy is too freaky for me for sure!!!

Bethany@ImperfectMom said...

I love Flo, but I agree with you about the Burger King guy. Freaks me out. We don't have the hamsters I'm curious!

Jeremy from We Took The Bait said...

We watch a ton of infomercials.

There's one for a product called "The Shoedini" where the voice over is done by none other than Gilbert Gottfried.

Who came up with that idea? His pleasant, made-for-radio voice is sure to make these things jump off the shelves.

Fran Drescher's probably next in line for voiceover work. Oh, boy. Can't wait.

J.J. said...

Can't stand Flo, Burger 'King' OR Mr. Six! The rest, I don't care. My man LOVED the Cavemen, especially their tv show. Yeah, he's a weirdo.

You forgot the rats (currently cats) from the Quizno's commercials. If I ever wanted to eat there (I didn't) I sure in hell wouldn't now!

Michelle Faith said...

I couldn't read all of this cause I have a kid in the tub, tho I may comeback cause what I read is fricking funny. I love that Jack guy!! I watch to much TV thats all there is to it.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I read an article about "Flo" that said that the actress that plays her is now an international celebrity making SERIOUS bank. She was a washed up actress who scored the gig and now she's got six agents and a summer home on Nantucket. Hate her all you want. She's laughing all the way to the bank.

The Kia commercial. Genius. do-da-dipity.

jb said...

I'm still traumatized by those creepy Cadbury kids. EVIL!!!!!!!!!!

- JB

Marissa said...

Jack rocks! I loved him ever since the commercial where he'd keep trying to say "chipotle" and his red mouth kept tying up.

Homemaker Man said...

Macho Man Randy Savage for Slim Jims

CatLadyLarew said...

GAH! The Burger King is scary... a pedophile in disguise! And I confess, I'm left feeling not so cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

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Anonymous said...

What, no old spice man?

and the "dude! you're getting a dell!" guy should be in the annoying section, that guy was idiotic

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Couldn't agree more on the King, that weird, way over sized & too smiley head freaks me out.

I really like the PC/Mac guys, they're perfectly geekily cast.

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