Under the Influence


Get this episode from Subscribe to the podcast free to have each new episode delivered to your computer every week. After 2 weeks, past episodes of Under the Influence will become available for purchase on iTunes. This episode looks at the wacky world of advertising mascots. The ad industry has a long history with mascots, as they are some of...
Get this episode from Under the Influence: Mascots (Season 1, Episode 14) - EP - CBC Radio

Subscribe to the podcast free to have each new episode delivered to your computer every week. After 2 weeks, past episodes of Under the Influence will become available for purchase on iTunes.

This episode looks at the wacky world of advertising mascots.

The ad industry has a long history with mascots, as they are some of the most enduring advertising symbols of all time. As a matter of fact, mascots have outlived most other advertising campaigns. The Jolly Green Giant just turned 84, for example. But this episode is about the modern mascots of advertising. In many ways, they resemble the mascots of the past, each created to personify the essence of the product. But they contain differences, too, mostly in the great strides technology now offers. We'll look at the E*Trade talking baby mascot, the Coke Polar Bears, the Great A&W Root Bear, and of course, the Energizer Bunny, who keeps on going and going and going...

AW Root Bear.jpg
Source: RethinkCanada

Back in 2007, Grey Advertising in New York was trying to figure out what ad they would run on the upcoming Super Bowl for their client, E*Trade.

The E*Trade advertising strategy was to tell the public that it puts powerful yet simple financial tools into their hands.

Grey Advertising had come up with an idea - they would show real people talking about how easy E*Trade is for trading stocks and bonds. Then someone in the Grey creative department suggested a "talking baby." As in, "It's so easy to use a baby could do it."

No one was sure if it was a good idea or not. "When we first created the baby," said Creative Director Tor Myhren, "We had no idea if it was the dumbest idea we had ever done, or if it was genius."

The idea of a talking baby had been done dozens of times in advertising, and even on TV and in movies. But the agency went ahead and put the Baby idea into research, along with several other Super Bowl concepts.

Nothing tested as well as the talking baby.

As E*Trade's Chief Marketing Officer later said, it just connected with consumers.

So the commercial was shot, a comedian named Pete Holmes was hired to be the voice of the baby, everyone crossed their fingers, and the first E*Trade Talking Baby commercial aired on the 2008 Super Bowl:

Source: E*Trade.com

Of the 70-odd ads that ran in the Super Bowl, the E*Trade spot was the "3rd Most Recalled" commercial over all. That's important. "Most Recalled" means the ad was memorable. It hadn't evaporated in the minds of viewers when the game ended.

It was also the first time a major campaign had ever been shot via a web cam - a pioneering technique in the new YouTube era.

How the ad agency filmed the "talking baby" ads is also very interesting.

A one-year old baby is filmed looking into a camera that has a mirror on the lens, where the baby can see the reflection of his mother's face. She tries to get him to make certain facial expressions.

Once that is filmed, step two happens; Comedian Pete Holmes records the script. Then his script is read verbatim by a four-year old and filmed. This is done because four-year olds can actually talk. And their mouths, lips and cheeks are still baby-like. Then all three elements are married via CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery.

So in the end, you have the cute one-year old, the talking mouth of a four-year old, and the hilarious voice of an adult comedian.

In the 2010 Super Bowl commercial, a jealous girlfriend asks the E*Trade baby if he's been stepping out:

Source: E*Trade.com

The words "Milkoholic" and "Lindsay" created a lot of problems for E*Trade.

Lindsay Lohan slapped them with a $100 million dollar lawsuit for using her name and characterization without her approval. Because Lohan had just been through a series of well-publicized rehab stints, she felt the "milkoholic" reference was about her. But E*Trade objected saying that there are over 250,000 other women in the U.S. named Lindsay, as well as many other celebrities, too.

Lohan's lawyer pointed out that her client is one of the few celebrities that can be identified by one name, like Sting or Oprah. Then, the lawyer justified her case, saying that by elimination, only her client fit the, quote: "...particular role and persona of an alcoholic bimbus woman" that e*Trade as looking for in their commercial.

That was quite the statement. The lawyer was essentially saying that Lohan had the right to protect her "floundering" image.

Eventually, the case was settled out of court, and no details were released. But along the way, it had generated over 47,000 pieces of media coverage.

The E*Trade Baby was back again in the 2012 Super Bowl, but there are rumours that the baby may have run its course.

One of the most famous mascots of the last five years may finally be put to bed.

coca_cola_polar_brears_cropped.png Source: Adage.com

Coca Cola is one of the premiere advertising brands in the world.

In 1956, Coke moved its account to advertising agency McCann-Erickson. McCann was a leader in the new television era, and Coke wanted to master the medium.

It was one of the longest-lasting client/agency relationships in the business, and together, they had created some of the most memorable TV advertising of all time. But in the early 90s, a seismic crack in the relationship occurred.

At the time, Michael Ovitz was the most powerful talent agent in Hollywood, and he ran CAA, the Creative Artists Agency.

In a bold move, he signed the Coca Cola company as a client. It was an unheard-of move. Never before had a talent agency represented a client's advertising interests. And never before had a major client stepped outside their agency to find advertising ideas.

The ad industry, while shocked, scoffed at the idea, asking what a talent agency could possibly know about advertising.

But CAA came up with a novel idea. They created the polar bear mascots for Coke. The first commercial was a huge hit:

Source: YouTube

Every year since, the Coke polar bears have made an appearance in Coca Cola's advertising.

But this year's Super Bowl set a new standard.

Working with highly awarded ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, Coke created the "Polar Bowl" - starring two polar bears - one cheering for the Patriots, the other for the Giants.

In a remarkably ambitious idea, the polar bears reacted to the Super Bowl game, the half-time show and other commercials... in real time.

The 35-person Coke team had rehearsed for three months, watching footage of old games to prepare. They then split into three groups: The puppeteers who controlled the bear's reactions, another group watched the game and provided feedback, and a third monitored and responded on Twitter and Facebook.

The result was amazing.

Viewers watched the Polar Bowl on their computers next to their TV showing the game.

When the national anthem played, the bears stood and put their paws over their hearts (all polar bowl footage is silent, as the sound from the TV game was the soundtrack):

Source: CokePolarBowl.com

When the Patriots made a good play, viewers saw the polar bear with the blue scarf celebrate, and when the Giants made progress, the polar bear with the red scarf cheered:

Source: CokePolarBowl.com

And they both reacted when their teams fumbled, made errors - or call for defence:

Source: CokePolarBowl.com

The reactions were extraordinary, but it went further than that. In a hilarious move, the Coke polar bears actually left the room when the Pepsi/Elton John ad ran.

Source: CokePolarBowl.com

They stood with their paws over their hearts when the patriotic Clint Eastwood ad for Chrysler came on. And as an inside joke, the polar bears dozed off when the Doritos commercials came on. Why? Because Doritos is owned by Pepsi:

Source: CokePolarBowl.com


The response from fans was overwhelming. First, Coke had planned for 300,000 fans to watch the live Polar Bowl stream.

As the game progressed, more and more fans logged on, forcing Coke to add an additional nine servers for a total of 18. Eventually the demand grew so great that by the third quarter, 600,000 fans were watching the Polar Bowl. Coke had to increase the capacity to allow for 1.1 million users. The result was unprecedented, and Coke couldn't keep up with the traffic.

In the end, the Coke polar Bears were one of the biggest hits of the Super Bowl, and more importantly, after almost 20 years, the mascots had broken new ground.

That's why the they are some of the most loved mascots of all time, and their influence just keeps going and going and going...

It all started with a Duracell ad in Europe:

Source: YouTube

That commercial ran for a long time. Then, in 1989, Energizer created a commercial, and a mascot, to go head to head, or should I say, rabbit to rabbit, with Duracell.

It was a very innovative commercial, because not only did it take a shot at Duracell by duplicating the toy bunny scenario, but it also did something else:

Source: YouTube

When it was all over, viewers realized that all three "commercials" were really just one big Energizer commercial.

The launch commercial was a very unique way to firmly establish the Bunny with the powerful tagline, "It keeps going and going and going..."

The mascot has been a remarkable success for Energizer. For years, Duracell trounced Energizer. Nobody could remember Energizer, even though the two products were essentially identical with the same benefits.

Over the years, Duracell's share of market has gone from dominating the battery industry in the mid 90s, to about 29% today, according to Time Magazine. Energizer is just behind them at 25%.

How do you know when your mascot has transcended advertising and become part of the vernacular? When politicians start co-opting the tagline.

In 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, then 72, dismissed concerns about his age by saying, quote: "I'm the Energizer Bunny. We've got a lot of juice left in our generation."

When his 2004 presidential campaign was floundering, Democratic candidate Howard Dean promised reporters he would "Keep going and going and going - just like the Energizer Bunny."

Not only has the shades-wearing Bunny been named one of the Top Ten mascots of all time, but it has another distinction.

In 2006, the Oxford-English Dictionary actually included a definition for Energizer Bunny, as, "a persistent or indefatigable person or phenomenon."

A&W Sign.jpg Source: AccessWinnipeg.com

Way back in 1919, a California entrepreneur named Roy Allen sold his first mug of root beer for a nickel.

With the success of that first location, he opened a second one in Sacramento, believed to be the country's first "drive-in" restaurant.

In 1922, Roy took on a partner named Frank Wright from the first location. The two partners combined their initials and named the beverage "A&W Root Beer."

By 1933, the company was such a success that they had over 170 franchised locations. After the war, in 1950, A&W swelled to over 450 restaurants nationwide. And with the popularity of the automobile, A&W was a company in the right place at the right time.

By 1960, there were over 2,000 A&W restaurants, and they had more locations than McDonald's.

A&W drive-in.jpg Source: hotrodsandjalopies.blogspot.ca

But before that, in 1956, the first Canadian A&W was opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

By 1975, McDonalds was coming on strong, and A&W's cook-to-order method seemed old and dated. The tray on the car, the ordering speaker, the hostess, sometimes on roller-skates, were instantly obsolete. The writing was on the wall.

That's when Ron Woodall entered the picture.

Ron was the Creative Director of J. Walter Thompson advertising in Vancouver. A&W liked Ron's work, and asked that he work on their account. They told Ron they didn't know what they were going to do in response to McDonalds. They might get out of the restaurant business, or they might just do bottled root beer.

So they asked Ron to come up with a temporary advertising campaign - one that didn't show food or restaurants. They only wanted to protect their brand and maintain awareness while they re-grouped. In other words, they wanted to be liked and not forgotten.

Woodall had seen a crude Root Bear on some U.S. packaging, and it was poorly rendered and tacky. But he loved the name. So he took that basic idea, and re-imagined it to be a large, anthropomorphic orange-clad mascot called The Great Root Bear.

Root Bear colour.png Source: Drpepperssnapplegroup.com

As is the case for most big campaigns, the Root Bear went into research to see if consumers liked it. Ron Woodall, and A&W Director of Marketing Olga Billett, were to present the Root Bear idea to franchisees at a big conference outside of Vancouver. When the researcher flew in late with the research, just minutes before the meeting, the news was bad. The focus groups had hated the bear.

It had gone horribly.

So Olga Billett said the most extraordinary thing. She looked at the researcher and said, "You never made it here, so there is no research. Go back to Toronto." So the stunned researcher picked up his luggage, and went straight back to the airport.

With that, Olga and Ron went into the room and presented the Great Root Bear to the franchisees.

And from that crazy moment, The Great Root Bear was born:

Source: YouTube

That tuba tune, titled "Ba-dum Ba-Dum," became an internationally favourite showcase for tuba virtuosity. It was played by marching and school bands everywhere.

The Root Bear mascot became so successful, it was eventually adopted by the U.S. chain as well.

By the way, the Great Root Bear was a girl. She was a dancer named Katherine, who gave the Bear a lovely sense of rhythm and a funny waddle, and she wore the bear suit to every public appearance and TV commercial for over a decade.

The theme of those commercials was to "follow the Great Root Bear" to A&W. And a lot of us did.

Now, four decades later, the Great Root Bear mascot and its Ba-dum Ba-dum tune still lives on in people's memories.

Advertising has always loved mascots.

They are created and designed from the ground up to capture the essence of the product. Another great thing about mascots, of course, is that they don't age, they don't ask for raises, and they are rarely do stints in rehab.

It could be argued that mascots have had a greater impact on products than celebrities.

Nine Lives Cat Food had to hire Morris the Cat a secretary to answer all his fan mail. The Jolly Green Giant just turned 84. And Mr. Clean's first name was a recent $250,000 question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Answer: "Veritably." Yes, he is Mr. Veritably Clean.

If the name of the marketing game is to be remembered, to personify a brand's image and to bring emotion to a product, there's no doubt mascots are a veritable gold mine...

...when you're under the influence.


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