Duck Duck Book


63 – meet mr. product
09.15.2009, 12:03 am
Filed under: technology

Meet Mr. Product : the art of the advertising character / Warren Dotz, Masud Husain.
San Francisco : Chronicle Books, c2003.
[MCL call number: 659.1 D725m 2003: one copy, no holds]

Those readers who know me personally do not need to be reminded of how appalled I am to see the food advertising itself.  Probably the most dramatic horrors are the signs for barbecue restaurants that feature a cute, cartoonish pig salivating, wearing a bib, and waving a knife and fork — but there are countless other examples: anthropomorphized donuts, dancing fruits and vegetables, and hot dogs that walk and talk, just to name a few.  Ironically, at the same time as these characters disgust me, I also find them fascinating and compelling, which is, I guess, part of why they make good advertisements.  They’re adorable.  They’re disturbing.  They’re improbable.  They’re funny!

I think some of my discomfort with the food advertising itself is that the adorable little pig at the barbecue stand and its colleagues are actually encouraging consumers to eat them, which seems unnatural and perverse.  Products-brought-to-life which encourage consumption of other types are not so aberrant — for example, it used to be relatively common for muffler repair shops to have a gaily painted life-sized robot-like statue made of mufflers and other auto parts out front to advertise their services.  Certainly the muffler man, who is made out of mufflers, is encouraging people to consume mufflers.  But since real mufflers are inanimate, technological products, and since we’re not actually eating them, it seems less grotesque for the muffler man to invite us in to have our cars serviced.  His plea is that we patronize his establishment, because his purpose is to quiet the exhaust of an automobile.  The pig, on the other hand, has many interests of its own, and does not grace this earth solely to provide barbecue.

But, philosophical discussion aside, it is clear that the cute cartoon pig with a bib, the muffler man, the animated hot dog are all charming and unusual and make us notice the products they promote.  Some are clever and engaging.  Others are horrifically stereotyped.  Still others are so uninspired as to be instantly forgettable, unless perhaps they survive as cautionary examples for future marketers.  Meet Mr. Product attempts to give readers a tour of a wide swathe of the world peopled by these unlikely creatures.  After a brief history of the use of imaginary characters in advertising, the book displays hundreds of examples of “spokescharacters” who have been used to hawk everything from breakfast cereal to light bulbs to natural gas utilities.  Many are personifications of the products they sell, much like the little pig at the barbecue restaurant, but others are more akin to live product spokespeople — Betty Crocker, Little Miss Coppertone, Mr. Goodwrench, Aunt Jemima.

Many, many classic favorites appear in the book, including:

  • Uniroyal’s Nauga (page 176), alerting shoppers that the object to which it is attached is genuine Naugahyde,
  • the Jolly Green Giant (page 21)
  • Bibendum, the Michelin tire man (pages 14 and 207),
  • Manny, Moe, and Jack (page 213), of the Pep Boys auto parts stores, and
  • the 1940s version of the Jantzen diving girl (page 254) in her iconic red strapless bathing suit.

And there are plenty who never achieved total nationwide household-name sort of fame:

  • the little duckling with a bib (page 151) who once graced the sign for Waddle’s diner here in Portland (“Eat Now at Waddles,” it said, though the example in the book is a little less direct),
  • Mr. Zip (page 224), a very sketchy, high-on-smack-looking postal carrier used to promote the US Postal Service’s new Zone Improvement Program in the 60s,
  • Miss Curity, the first lady of first aid (page 255), promoter of Curity bandages and tape, and
  • the dapper Wool Council lamb (page 249).

Unfortunately, there is no index, though the arrangement of the book might help readers locate the particular spokescharacter they seek — eight chapters focus on characters who advertised food, drinks, products aimed at children, restaurants, technology, car parts and automobile-related products, household goods, and personal and leisure products.

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