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5 Iconic Advertising Characters from the Past

Companies often choose a spokesperson or advertising character to literally embody their brand. These characters may not reflect the demographics of their target audience, and they sometimes have absolutely nothing to do with a product or service offered by the company. For instance, what does a duck have to do with supplemental insurance? Yet this ad character has become a persuasive symbol for AFLAC.

What advertising characters and mascots do best is to promote the identity of the company they represent in a fun and convincing way—one that captures the hearts… or better yet, the wallets of potential consumers. We identify some of the most iconic advertising characters who are no longer in use.

The Marlboro Man

The invention of this classic character is the stuff of advertising legend. Conceived by genius ad man Leo Burnett, the Marlboro man became a symbol of masculinity and independence for over forty years. This ad icon was used to dispel the feminine image associated with filtered cigarettes. Pictured as a rugged cowboy, or cowboys, in a natural setting, the Marlboro man emerged as more than a symbol of a cigarette brand—he became an emblem of the manly, self-determined American male. This popular advertising fixture ended its run in the United States due to health controversies around smoking after three former Marlboro Men died of lung cancer.

The Taco Bell Chihuahua

taco bell ad

Image by D’oh By (Mark Holloway) / Flickr

This ad icon entered the game in 1994, when an adorable, pint-sized dog named Gidget became the official face of Taco Bell. The pup’s slogan “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” Translates to “I want Taco Bell.” Images of the dog flooded American televisions and shopping malls as toys modeled after the popular canine spokesperson came into production.

The Taco Bell Chihuahua ended its run as the restaurant mascot in the year 2000. Allegations of racist stereotyping against Mexican-Americans is one potential factor in the end of this campaign.

The Arby’s Oven Mitt

The world of fast-food advertising offers yet another late, great brand icon in the form of Arby’s “Oven Mitt.” This unexpected brand icon brought humor and spontaneity to the Arby’s image. Voiced by actor and comedian Tom Arnold, Oven Mitt occasionally injected a sarcastic edge in commercials. At other times, he sang and danced in open displays of enthusiasm for the company’s deli-style sandwiches.

Cookie Crisp Crook

Officially called the “Cookie Crook,” this popular ad character was a staple of Saturday morning commercials for kids who came of age in the 1980s and 90s. A rogue fugitive complete with mask, the crook was on a mission to steal the delicious small cookies in this sugary cereal. His efforts were thwarted by a mustached police officer, Officer Crumb. The Crook’s sidekick, Chip the Dog, eventually edged out his master in terms of popularity and camera time.

By 2005, the Cookie Crook ads were phased out, with some speculation that cops and robbers were not the best mascots for a children’s breakfast cereal.

Stephen Jackson

This young character was the center of an iconic series of computer ads that ran from 2000 to 2003. Stephen Jackson was a young student who promoted the up-to-date features and value of the company’s line of personal computers. His famous, if slightly annoying, catchphrase was “Dude, you got a Dell.” The character was played by actor Ben Curtis. These commercials came to a halt as the slacker, grunge-style image that was associated with their main character gradually became dated.

About the Author: Kate Simmons is a fresh graduate and occasional blogger on advertising, business and education.

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