mascots

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Sometimes in life, you just get lucky.  You are in the right place at the right time and someone gives you your first break at doing what you love. That was the case with me when I answered a classified ad for an advertising copywriter at Bofinger and Associates, a local agency in Glenside, PA. I was a recent graduate of Susquehanna University with a seemingly useless degree in English (seemingly useless for getting hired for a journalism job unless I wanted to try my hand at writing obituaries part-time for the Quakertown Free Press). However, I submitted my resume and I got a call from the agency owner, Charlie Bofinger. He asked me to come in for an interview for the entry level PR job, also in the same ad. He told me on the phone he was looking for someone with a little experience for the copywriter post. And so, I went for my first agency interview and got hired to write for a living.

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

Charles Bofinger, former principal of Bofinger and Associates ad agency

I was saddened to read Charlie’s obituary last week, but glad that he lived a long fulfilling life to age 88. Reading it brought back a flood of memories. His agency was small by Madison Avenue standards, but I quickly learned that Charlie had a lot of talented people working for him, each one of which I learned different skills from, including: Herb Smith, Account Service; Bernice Slosberg, Media; Marc Ellis, Copy Chief; and Pat Burns, PR.

As a graduate of the Milton Hershey School, Charlie Bofinger learned how to leverage his considerable artistic talents and business acumen through various connections he had made in Hershey. The result of that was a solid core of accounts from Chocolate Town, USA. The agency handled advertising for Hersheypark, all of the Hershey resort properties (Hotel Hershey, Hershey Motor Lodge and Convention Center, Pocono Hershey Resort), the Milton Hershey School, various HERCO projects, as well as some Hershey Foods assignments, such as San Giorgio brand pasta. On this solid base, Bofinger and Associates built additional account business, including CRC Chemicals, Van Sciver furniture, Malo marshmallow cup candy, and a number of other clients.

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Bofinger handled all of Hershey's resorts, including the Hotel Hershey

Heady for me was the chance to learn PR on behalf of CRC, whose various cleaning chemicals were staples for degreasing. It is where I learned about brand extensions with one line of formulations for automotive, another for marine, and another for industrial use. One of my earliest assignments was writing regular news releases about CRC’s various market-specific products. Things got a lot more interesting when the decision was made to raise awareness of the automotive line by sponsoring a NASCAR driver. CRC didn’t have a huge budget, so it was looking for a top 10 driver who might crack the top 5. They settled on a good one — a guy who did manage to make the top 5 a few times, but also made a bigger name for himself later on as the head of one of today’s premier racing teams — Richard Childress.

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Richard Childress as a driver sponsored by CRC Chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

Bofinger press kit for CRC automotive chemicals

My recollections of Charlie was a guy who was very hard-working and often out of the office, spending time with his clients, learning their needs and their business challenges. When he was in his office, he was always working hard on ad designs.

I remember doing some of my own market research at Hersheypark in the spring with my college roommate, Bob Nisley, who lived in nearby Hummelstown and had had a thankless summer job during school working as a park mascot in one of those heavy character costumes. We tried out various park rides, including the old wooden coaster and the newest one called the SooperDooperLooper. My own kids just returned from a band trip to Hersheypark on Friday and announced to me that those are now the kiddie rides. I also toured the hotel properties in town and was impressed by how well all the tourism synergy works together there.

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

"Hersheypark Happy". . .one of Bofinger and Associates' many accounts (and jingles)

I worked for Charlie Bofinger the better part of a year and even got promoted to that ad copywriter job when the original person hired didn’t stay past the first few months. Then, one day, I came into the office and learned a tough but valuable lesson about the capricious nature of the ad business. Van Sciver Furniture, a big broadcast account for us, had decided to take its account elsewhere because sales had been down. Although I never worked on the account, I learned that job security was a lot like the LIFO accounting method (last in, first out). On Friday of that week, I got layed off from the agency and discovered unemployment insurance. Charlie was very sad to have to deliver that decision personally, but was very fair in how he handled it.

I can’t complain because, thanks to the Bofinger experience, I soon landed another advertising job at Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company, where I got to work with a lot of other young hires and eventually met my wife Drina. One day I was pleasantly surprised to read in the Inquirer that Bofinger and Associates had been acquired by Spiro, one of Philadelphia’s largest agencies at the time. Smart businessman that Charlie.

After two years at Provident Mutual, I got hired at Newton Associates, by two other great mentors, Jon Newton and Harry Streamer, who gave me many more opportunities (all of which is future blog material). During the early days of Newton, I would occasionally hear of Charlie. I knew he had loved painting and the Jersey shore. Somewhere I learned that there was a gallery in Stone Harbor that carried his work. Drina and I stopped in one weekend and bought one of his serigraphs. Another is hanging near the front desk at Newton and came courtesy of Charlie’s brother Ken, who used to call on Newton regularly representing many of the area’s printers.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Besides his agency career, Charlie Bofinger was also a talented fine artist.

Thanks, Charlie. You helped a lot of associates and clients over a long career in the crazy business of advertising. Including a young wet-behind-the-ears kid who now co-runs his own agency and tries to follow life lessons learned from some great mentors, you being the first.

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 2 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

It never ceases to amaze me how many brands that began in another time in America are still intact with relatively few changes. Belief in brand graphic symbology and associations is unbending.  No one wants to mess with brand DNA for fear consumers will get confused or annoyed or attracted to a competitor.

These examples of unbroken brand equity jumped out at me from the pages of  the “100 Greatest Advertisements” book loaned to me by Ted Regan during our Ayer discussions leading to this mini-series.

First, a comment on the book’s title circa 1959. When is the last time you heard anyone use the term Advertisement? Did it disappear when print buys began drying up in favor of online options? As the industry keeps changing, the word digital seems to precede a great many things, including advertising. As a purist, I am even troubled by the pay-per-click phraseology of Google Adwords. I’m sorry but a text link may be a form of paid media but it is so far from a great ad that it is itself a horrible bastardization.

The Cream of Wheat Chef continues to represent the brand long after this awkward racial moment from another time.

The Cream of Wheat Chef continues to represent the brand long after this awkward racial moment from another time.

Other forms of advertising change are even more dramatic. There is no date on the following ad for Cream of Wheat, but it is clearly of another time. Seeing it through the present prism of 2013 when we have a re-elected African-American President in the White House, and after a racially incendiary film like Django has been an Oscar Best Picture Nominee, it is surprising to encounter an Uncle Remus type figure proudly beaming at an outdoor board featuring the Cream of Wheat chef and proclaiming “Ah Reckon As How He’s De Bes’ Known Man in De Worl.” These kind of “statements” and “snapshots” of their time tend to make a lot of people in the present uncomfortable.

The Cream of Wheat chef remains the enduring face of the brand today.

The Cream of Wheat chef remains the enduring face of the brand today.

The real story behind the Cream of Wheat chef, according to Julian Lewis Watkins’ account, is its own testament to racial progress. The enduring image began when Colonel Mapes, one of the founders of the company, was having lunch at Kohlsaat’s Restaurant in Chicago in the early 1900s. His waiter was a handsome man with a winning smile. Mapes asked this anonymous man to be the face of the Cream of Wheat hot cereal brand. By the time the ad ran, this gentleman’s visage had become famous and had sold a lot of cereal. By 1959, when the ad was featured in this volume, he had become of the top three or four best-known trademarks in advertising. Ironically, just about every year in between, the company had been approached by various gentlemen who said they were the original chef. Colonel Mapes was able to disqualify all of them as fakes; ironically, the original model must have preferred anonymity, because by 1959 and the publication date, he had not contacted the company. According to Wikipedia, a chef named Frank L. White who died in 1938, claimed to be the original model. Wikipedia also notes that the chef character on the original packaging was given the name Rastus. Sounds like a bad minstrel show sketch. Remarkably, in 2013, the “bes’ known man in de worl” is still incredibly well known because his welcoming smile continues to grace all of Cream of Wheat’s modern packaging.

Elsie the Cow interestingly enough began life as a trade ad campaign in medical journals.

Elsie the Cow interestingly enough began life as a trade ad campaign in medical journals.

A recently revived brand icon is Borden’s Elsie the Cow. This article explains the current CEO’s plan to tap into all that equity. I was surprised to learn through the “100 Greatest Advertisements” that Elsie has only been around since the 1930s. Even more surprising is that she began life in a trade ad campaign for Eagle Brand condensed milk and other Borden dairy products featured in medical journals.  The ads were such a hit with doctors that proofs were posted to office walls. As Elsie’s popularity grew, she went from B2B to consumer, first with small newspaper ads, then radio spots, then a World’s Fair appearance, and finally in 1939, four-color national magazine ads. Elsie became so popular she even finds herself competing against other cows, which is no laughing matter.

The Campbell Kids got their start in 1899 on car cards.

The Campbell Kids got their start in 1899 on car cards.

The other brand sagas are tame by comparison. Local (Camden, NJ) food giant Campbell’s has been using kids (and later twins) to market soup since they appeared on car cards in 1899. This particular Saturday Evening Post ad is from 1935. The current Campbell’s web site and soup packaging seems to have gotten away from the vintage illustration approach. However, the twins are featured prominently on this Campbell’s blog.

Wonder whether the Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark, ever married brides named Copy and Right.

Wonder whether the Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark, ever married brides named Copy and Right.

The Smith Brothers (Trade and Mark) are also of that vintage era, predating Campbell’s kids by 47 years (1852 was first appearance in a “Cough Candy” ad that ran in Poughkeepsie newspapers. The founding members of the ZZTop fan club can still be found on cough drop product packaging as evidenced on the current web site.

Who says dogs never listen? RCA Victor's enduring brand suggests otherwise.

Who says dogs never listen? RCA Victor's enduring brand suggests otherwise.

Who let the dogs out? RCA still does.

Who let the dogs out? RCA still does.

Another of the most iconic brand marks of all time is the infamous fox terrier listening intently through the Victor Talking Machine to “his master’s voice.”  He began life as the real life dog (Nipper) of the painter Francis Barraud, who noticed his pet hunched over the horn. A star was born. Take note that the ad featured here listed the address of the Victor Talking Machine Co. as the Stephen Girard Bld., Philadelphia. A visit to today’s RCA web site shows not one fox terrier, but two. Does that count as a brand extension?

 

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Pardon the pun on the ‘70s America song title. Perhaps the ugly nocturnal muskrat is the only remaining animal or anthropomorphic character still unclaimed by a corporation or sports team as a branding symbol. Mascots have been advertising mainstays since advertising has been a mainstay.

Mascots can create a warm and fuzzy feeling between the brand and the customer. Kids are especially susceptible. I know because it was an early age fascination with one Speedy Alka-Seltzer that sparked my interest in an advertising career and indigestion relief.

It just seems like America’s love affair with make-believe beings that embody brand values has no end.

 

GEICO's Gecko is arguably the perfect mascot.

Can you have too many mascots? Ask GEICO. They developed perhaps the most successful mascot of all time in the GEICO Gecko, thanks to clever nameplay and the ideal blend of an engaging accent and light humor. But too much of a good thing is never a good thing. Layering on additional characters and ad campaigns, from too-sensitive cavemen to a thrill-seeking baby pig has helped to overexpose the GEICO brand.

Great mascot moments. There is really no end to the glory days of mascots throughout the course of advertising history. From the Jolly Green Giant, to Mr. Clean, to the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, to Mayor McCheese, to Tony the Tiger, even to the Chuckwagon wagon train.

Ho, ho, ho. . .Green Giant!

Ho, ho, ho. . .Green Giant!

Not-so-great mascot moments.  Occasionally, what seems like a good idea, isn’t. Like using Joe Camel to skew tobacco demographics younger. Or staging a race between meat product costumes at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game, leading one player to hit one of the sausage characters in the head with his bat. However, worst of all was when Gilbert Gottfried, comic and voiceover actor extraordinaire, whose one-of-a-kind sound won him the gig as the Aflac duck. However, a few tweets in bad taste about the horrific natural disasters in Japan (unknown to Gottfried as a major Aflac market) led to his prompt dismissal.

Mascot rivalries. Locally, we are blessed with the most memorable, well-loved mascot in all of sports — the Philly Phanatic. At least until this year. Forbes magazine recently ran a poll and determined that the Phanatic is now number two. Edging him out of the top spot as a fan favorite was Mr. Met. Hilariously, the Phanatic took to Facebook to congratulate his NL East chum and to warn him to “not let the honor go to his head.”

Mr. Met doesn't mind stitches.

Mr. Met doesn't mind stitches.

Worst mascot ever. Tossup. I know that Burger King got some clever, edgy mileage out of creating a rubberized suit version of the King of Burgers, but there was a creepy weird vibe associated with what amounted to this full-size, silent action figure.

Burger King of bling.

Burger King of bling.

Meanwhile, I hope that the owners of MegaBus never decide to create a live action mascot suit of the cartoon driver who adorns the back of every bus. He resembles a Playskool Weeble and his rotundity looks like it might adversely affect his driving record.

Mr. MegaBus is larger than life.

Mr. MegaBus is larger than life.

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