Twenty of the Most Memorable Marketing Characters that Brought Brands to Life
Given our current times and situation, one can understand why our past few blog posts have been more toward the serious and somber side. We don't know about you, but we could sure use a break from all of the constant reminders of COVID-19 and the ensuing anxiety. That's why we're going to take a different direction today. We invite you to take a little vacation from all things stressful by way of a bit of nostalgic entertainment.
Being that our famous commercial actors post is one of the most frequently visited pages on our site, we've decided to create something a bit similar here. However, rather than focusing on actors/actresses, this article will focus on advertising mascots. Read on and you'll learn some little-known facts regarding some of the most well-known advertising characters in the history of product promotion. The 20 characters we'll examine run the gamut as far as age is concerned. Some made their debuts over 100 years ago, while a few others are still hitting the screen today.
1. Snuggles – Snuggle Fabric Softener
We'll get the ball rolling with Snuggles, the official mascot of Snuggle® brand fabric softener. The idea for Snuggles was conceived in 1983. At the time, Downy had a powerful hold on the fabric softener market in the USA. Their advertising angle focused around the blissful domestic scene, with happy families enjoying comfortable clothing thanks to their product. Snuggle, produced by Unilever and a newcomer to the scene, needed to find a way to penetrate people's minds and stay inside. They did this by cashing in on the cuteness factor with a soft little bear named Snuggles.
This character lives up to his name (yes, he's a boy, despite having a female voice actress) by way of cuddling everything in sight. In the video below, you might notice that he even snuggles the Snuggle logo itself. In addition to the idea that "cute sells", there's another lesson to take from Snuggle; if it ain't broke, don’t' fix it. Briefly, he was redesigned as a hip partier type of character. The ads featuring this incarnation tested poorly and we were soon re-introduced to the Snuggle we all know and love. Thankfully, he's been there for us ever since. In addition to selling lots of fabric softener, Unilever also has cashed in by selling thousands of Snuggles plush teddy bears over the years.
2. Keebler Elves – Keebler
A fixture of the advertising landscape for more than 50 years, the Keebler Elves are familiar to virtually all American consumers. While we know them best as the industrious little guys who work in a hollowed out tree bearing the Keebler logo, they actually started out a bit differently. The earliest incarnations of the Keebler Elf commercials had a classroom setting led by a character named Ollie. A year later, the meek yet kindly Ernest "Ernie" J Keebler hit the scene and has been with us ever since. Ernie takes the role of leader in the treehouse of treats, and is recognizable by his white hair, glasses, red hat, green jacket, yellow pants, and big brown elf shoes.
While Ernie is a great ambassador for the Keebler brand, we'd like to also put the spotlight on some of the lesser-known Keebler Elves. Featured in the video below are Ernie's nephews Zoot & JJ, two lively surfer-teen types who appeared in many 90s ads introducing new products. Other elves of note are Ma (Ernie's mother), Flo (the company accountant), Buckets (the klutzy yet well-meaning pourer of fudge), Fast Eddie (who speedily wraps each item), Doc (a sage elder elf and source of advice), Leonardo (the company artist), and Elmer, who appears to be Ernie's VP of sorts.
3. Garfield – Various
Garfield is a fat, orange, lazy, lasagna-loving tabby who is most famous from the world-famous comic strip of the same name. He also had a cartoon series, Garfield & Friends, which ran on CBS from 1988-1994. There have also been two Garfield movies. What many people do not know is the fact that Jim Davis, Garfield's creator, didn't intend for him to only be a comedic character. From the beginning, he also wanted to create a character who he could merchandise and use for advertising purposes. Before hitting the funny pages, Davis worked for an advertising agency, so this shouldn't come as a huge shock.
Garfield has been a smashing success for Davis in every possible way. He's also found his way into stardom in the world of product promotion. This goes far beyond those plush Garfield toys with suction cups that were stuck to car windows across America in the 1980s. Garfield's popularity and relatability as a character (loving sleep, loving food, hating Mondays, etc) has made him attractive to many companies looking for a mouthpiece. He's appeared in commercials for American Express, Franco-American (in the video below), Embassy Suites, Alpo, Hyundai, and many more. It just goes to show that the public is eager to literally buy into a character in whom they see pieces of themselves.
4. Abandoned McDonaldland Characters – McDonald's
There's been a big emphasis on healthy eating habits and lifestyles in recent years. This has affected marketing to a large degree, particularly for those companies who market toward children. One of the most easily observable examples is in the world of fast food. Companies take a decidedly different approach to the way they reach out to kids, as modern parents had been wailing out with many objections. That's why the classic McDonaldland characters that were a childhood fixture of anyone born between the 1960s and 1990s are now nowhere to be seen. A much-modified Ronald McDonald still makes some appearances here and there, but his buddies are nowhere to be seen.
Many of us out there miss Grimace, Hamburglar, Birdie, Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook, and the rest of the old gang. Most of these characters were intended to focus on a specific menu offering or category. For example, Grimace loved milkshakes, Captain Crook lived for the Filet-o-Fish, Officer Big Mac (obviously) represented the sandwich of the same name, and Birdie "the early bird" was brought on board to advertise McDonald's breakfast items. She's the star of the commercial you'll find below. It's from 1986 and also features Ronald, Grimace, Hamburglar, and the obscure Professor.
5. Polar Bears – Coca-Cola
Next up are the Coca-Cola polar bears. We've mentioned these lovable characters before, most notably in our 15 Best Holiday Advertisements of All Time post. First appearing in 1993 (though technically one did appear in a 1927 print ad in France), this happy family (or village?) of playful, soda-loving bears are another advantage of a company leveraging the cute & cuddly power factor. They were actually conceived by a Coca-Cola ad executive whose yellow lab puppy reminded him of a polar bear.1
A typical ad involves either one of the bears or another tundra-dwelling animal craving an icy cold Coke and running into some sort of roadblock in the attempt. All of these ads have a happy ending, with the protagonist getting to enjoy a long swig of Coca-Cola, while the surrounding bears who helped out do the same. The ad below is from 2015 and features a puffin who struggles to access his/her Coke until a helpful bear points out a solution.
6. Punchy – Hawaiian Punch
Though he still appears on packaging and promotional items, Punchy no longer graces the small screen in Hawaiian Punch commercials. He's a pretty easily recognizable character; he's short, stocky, wears a blue and white vertically striped shirt, ill-defined or absent pants, and a red straw hat. The straw hat is often mistaken for being his hair, but when looking closely, wisps of it are often visible beneath the hat. Punchy seemed to have some problems when it came to violence, as can be witnessed by his interactions with Oaf, an animated character he was paired with in ads for decades.
Punchy would often encounter Oaf, asking him if he wanted "a nice Hawaiian punch". Oaf would always enthusiastically reply, "Sure!" This would inevitably result in Punchy slugging him in the face, knocking him out cold. Punchy would later go on to appear as an animated character in live-action commercials, often with the same shtick. While later victims can be pitied, Oaf arguably got what he deserved. He quite possibly created Punchy's violent issues in the first place through aggressive bullying. Take a look at this commercial from the early 1960s and decide for yourself.
7. Tony the Tiger – Kellogg
As is the case with the McDonaldland characters, children's cereal mascots, particularly those who peddle sugary cereals, have been pushed far into the background in recent years. However, there was a time not too long ago where they loomed large, particularly during Saturday morning commercial breaks. One such character was Tony the Tiger, the mascot for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. Famous for his catchphrase, "They're GRR-R-REAT!!!" Tony was voiced by the same actor for over 50 years. In the early years, Tony looked and moved more like a real tiger. As the years went on, he became more of an anthropomorphic character.
Tony's story is quite fleshed-out, at least for a cereal mascot. He's been shown to have a wife known as Mrs. Tony, a son named Tony Jr, and a daughter named Antoinette. Tony Jr briefly had his own cereal by the name of "Frosted Rice". By the 1980s, a typical pattern was set for most Tony the Tiger commercials. Tony would be hanging out with a child who was being mocked for struggling athletically in some way. As can be seen the commercial below, he'd respond by telling the antagonists they'd soon eat their words, once child had eaten a Frosted Flakes breakfast. The Frosted Flakes would power his friend to victory, instantly humbling his opponents. We realize it's just a cereal commercial, but just as a word of caution, try not to spend your time making fun of those who have tigers as friends.
8. Lucky the Leprechaun – General Mills
Another cereal mascot who has been mostly silenced by the health movement is Lucky the Leprechaun. Representing Lucky Charms, this particular leprechaun is anything but fortunate. His whole life seems to be centered around trying to eat his favorite cereal. However, he is rarely able to do so, as he's always trailed by a pack of ravenous children. He usually attempts to use his magic to outwit and escape them, but is nearly always foiled by some stroke of misfortune at the last minute.
Aside from his bad luck, this ironically-named character is most famous for his snappy green ensemble and singing the tagline, "Frosted Lucky Charms, they're magically delicious!" For a brief time, Lucky was replaced (only in New England-area media markets) with a character called Waldo the Wizard. Lucky's magic seems to have worked for him in this one case, as Waldo quickly disappeared. Interestingly enough, the different marshmallow shapes in the cereal originally represented all of the different magical powers held by Lucky. They're rarely enough to help him though, as he is flooded with more bad luck and cereal-driven sadism than anyone else this side of the Trix Rabbit.
9. Scrubbing Bubbles – Dow/SC Johnson & Sons
The ninth mascot(s) we'll take a look at are the Scrubbing Bubbles. These enthusiastic cleaning characters were originally the spokes-beings for Dow Bathroom Cleaner, but after DowBrands' acquisition by SC Johnson & Sons, the product also adopted the "Scrubbing Bubbles" name. Led by a tough yet lovable foreman named Scrubby, the Scrubbing Bubbles are blue dome shaped characters with brushes for legs. In most commercials, they're shown zooming around tubs, toilets, and sinks, proclaiming that they, "Do the work so you don't have to." This is in reference to the fact that when the cleaner is sprayed onto a surface, it immediately foams up and goes to work on dirt & grime, even before any human scrubbing commences.
These sanitary soldiers have been around since 1972, with Scrubby first being voiced by Paul Winchell. Winnie-the-Pooh fans may recognize this name, as he voiced Tigger in many of the cartoons. In addition to Scrubby, there are other bubbles with names and distinct personalities. There's the ever-enthusiastic Sudsy who views work as fun, the wise and elderly Poppy who is always good for some sage advice, and Mindy, the fastest worker of the bunch and (maybe?) a potential romantic interest of Scrubby. Below is a 1981 ad featuring the Scrubbing Bubbles, still featuring the Dow label.
10. Tidy Bowl Man – Ty-D-Bowl
Ty-D-Bowl (pronounced as "Tidy Bowl") is a toilet bowl cleaner that has been with us since 1958. Perhaps even more well-known than the product itself is their mascot, the Ty-D-Bowl man. This is quite an achievement, because even though he lives on in product packaging, he hasn't appeared in a television commercial since 1984. Still, "Tidy Bowl" remains a punchline for many jokes and a popular insult for college football bowl games that are scoffed at by non-participating teams. The actual product is far from a joke though, as it's quite effective and spares many people from unpleasant bowl-brushing.
The Ty-D-Bowl man was featured in television spots from 1968 through 1984, though many different actors portrayed the character during this 16 year run. He'd make an appearance when toilet tanks were lifted, usually moving about in a boat of some kind. The Ty-D-Bowl man was always dressed in full ship captain's attire and would usually either be observed by engaged in interactions with a curious household member. Comedians such as George Carlin, Johnny Carson, and more have performed famous routines involving this iconic advertising mascot. Curious to meet this toilet tank dwelling dynamo? Here he is in a commercial from 1971:
11. Lulu – FreeKibble
While she's probably the most obscure mascot on this list, Lulu the cat is quite possibly the most important. She's the feline ambassador for FreeKibble (opens in a new window) and appears on click-to-give sites that donate both cat food and litter to shelters in need. Also offering an option to support shelter dogs, FreeKibble is a site we also mentioned in our Top Charity Websites post. First conceived in 2006 by then 11-year-old Mimi Ausland, the FreeKibble network of charities works to provide food, shelter, comfort, and love to homeless & shelter animals in need.
Lulu is an adorable yellow feline, identifiable by her red, heart-shaped nose, blue ruffled collar, and winning smile. As is a common theme with popular mascots, Lulu received her name as the result of a fan voting contest, which was held in 2014. You'll encounter her in the following video. It serves as a quick tutorial on how to use the FreeKibble site and provides information on how you can help animals in need at absolutely no cost.
12. The Burger King – Burger King
Though he's never quite lived up to the celebrity status of Ronald McDonald, most people are at least aware of the Burger King, the mascot for the fast food chain of the same name. What most people may not be aware of is the number of different incarnations this character has seen over the years. He started out as a singing, animated king. This lasted from 1955 until 1976. As Ronald didn't appear until 1963, the Burger King is actually the older of the two mascots. From 1976 until the mid-1980s, the Burger King was played by a live action character in a costume. This version of the king (featured in the following video) was friendly and down-to-Earth, specializing in feats of prestidigitation. His main foil was the Duke of Doubt, a strange fellow whose main pursuit was trying to convince people that magic wasn't real.
It was during the 2nd Burger King's reign that several future child stars appeared alongside him in Burger King commercials. One notable example is Shavar Ross, who would go on to play Arnold Jackson's best friend on Diff'rent Strokes. This king was eventually phased out in favor of the cartoon kids who represented the Burger King Kids' Club. Then, in 2003, the creepy, silent version who we'll call "Burger King III" was introduced. He appeared in a variety of odd and farcical commercials throughout the next decade before being retired. He's likely the most famous version, having been parodied in many television shows and starring in several memes.
13. Manny, Moe, and Jack – Pep Boys
As you're most likely aware, Manny, Moe, and Jack are the three mascots with disproportionally large heads who appear on Pep Boys signage and merchandise. They actually have roots in reality, as they're named for the four founders of the auto parts chain. As there were two Moes in the mix (Maurice "Moe" Strauss and Moe Radavitz), it was decided they'd just go with three, since it was a better match for "Pep". The other two founders were Emanuel "Manny" Rosenfeld and Graham "Jack" Jackson. They got the idea to introduce these mascots after taking a cross-country road trip and seeing something similar at a Los Angeles tailor shop called Manny, Moe, and Jack's2.
Due to their overly large heads, these characters made a natural transition to bobblehead dolls for many different types of promotional merchandise. As far as the actual name of the chain is concerned, further inside jokes/personal anecdotes are involved. When trying to come up with a name for their Philadelphia-based auto parts store, one of the four founders decided to go with "Pep", getting the name from an old brand of valve compound. A neighborhood police officer would often refer to them as "the boys at pep2" and thus, a very catchy and memorable name was born. See Manny, Moe, and Jack in action in the 1984 commercial below:
14. Michigan J Frog – WB Television Network
The next mascot we'll look at is Warner Bros creation Michigan J Frog. While he appeared in some Merrie Melodies cartoons, he's best remembered for his role as the main advertising character for the WB television network. This fancy frog was often dressed in 20s style garb, typically with a hat and cane. He was a Vaudeville style character who had a penchant for singing ragtime variety tunes about the network. He'd also make appearances before a given show would air, briefly introducing it and explaining its subject matter, sometimes advising parents to "send their tadpoles off to bed."
Michigan J Frog was dropped by the network in 2005, with some inside sources even stating he was dead. This led to several spoof obituaries being created and spread around the Internet. Apparently, Michigan didn't really die, as he was there to bow to viewers and drop the curtain when the WB network aired its final broadcast the following year, when it was replaced by the CW Network. Here he is in happier times, singing a cheerful little tune about the WB.
15. Charlie the Tuna – Star-Kist
Most anyone who lives in the USA and has an awareness of tuna knows about Charlie. First appearing in 1961, Charlie the Tuna has now been the mascot for Star-Kist for almost 60 years. He has the appearance of a beatnik (though today, he may be mistaken for hipster), sporting thick black glasses and a beret. He has somewhat of a high-pitched, slightly lispy voice. Charlie always wants to be picked by Star-Kist, not seeming to understand what being caught by the fishermen would lead to. He thinks they want tunas with great taste, so he always tries to look and sound his best.
Luckily for Charlie, he never succeeds in these efforts. Invariably, he'd be told by either an off-screen narrator or another character, "Sorry Charlie, Star-Kist doesn't want tunas with good taste, they want tunas that taste good!" This catchphrase permeated popular culture, with "Sorry Charlie" being a commonly used phrase to this day when breaking disappointing news or issuing a rejection. He stopped appearing in commercials in the 1980s, but came back again in 1999 and appears on nearly all Star-Kist merchandise to this day. Interestingly, former NFL head coach Bill "Big Tuna" Parcells got his nickname when asking in frustration, "Who do you think am I, Charlie the Tuna?"
16. Mr. Clean – Procter & Gamble
One of the most famous names in the universe of household cleaning products, Mr. Clean is produced by Procter & Gamble and is represented by a character who goes by the same name. Mr. Clean first appeared in advertising in the 1950s and has been a constant fixture ever since. He is a tall, muscular bald man with an earring and sailor style clothing. The reason for the Naval look is that this cleaning product was first used on US Navy ships after it was decided a new cleaning formula was needed that wouldn't make sailors sick from chemical fumes.
Since his introduction, Mr. Clean has appeared in traditional cartoon form as well as in CG animation style. While he's a tough guy, he's usually seen smiling. For a brief time, an angrier version was presented. This version of Mr. Clean would glare at dirt, scaring it away. This premise was quickly dropped and the classic version soon returned. Though he is a quiet man, Mr. Clean has spoken a few lines over the years in a few ads. He received his unusual and little-known first name of "Veritably" as the result of the "Give Mr. Clean a First Name" contest of 1962. One of his earliest appearances can be witnessed in the following classic television commercial.
17. The Puttermans – Duracell
If you watched television in the USA in the 1990s, you likely remember the Puttermans. After the wild success of the Energizer Bunny, rival company Duracell figured it was time to create some attention-grabbing characters of their own. This lead to the creation of the Puttermans, a family of rather disturbing plastic robots. They were powered by Duracell D batteries that were lodged in their backs. The commercials were shot in a manner that gave the Puttermans somewhat of a claymation, stop-motion type of look.
Unfortunately for Duracell, the Puttermans didn't quite reach their intended goal. With many of the commercials centering on characters keeling over due to inferior batteries being used or their Duracell models being removed, many found the ads to be disturbing. They did end up being popular as Halloween costumes and also were noticed by several comedians. One Saturday Night Live routine involved a "Weekend Update" reporter stating, "The new ad campaigns for Duracell batteries is already having a dramatic effect. Over 70% of consumers say they now find the batteries creepy and disturbing.3" Were the Puttermans really that bad? Watch the video below and decide for yourself.
18. Mrs. Butterworth – ConAgra Foods
A staple of many breakfast tables, Mrs. Butterworth has been making pancakes and waffles even more delicious since the early 1960s. Taking the form of a matronly syrup bottle with the ability to speak, Mrs. Butterworth is the main advertising mascot for the syrup that is named for her. Originally taking the form of a glass bottle (the switch to plastic happened around the year 2000), Mrs. Butterworth would usually interact with live-action characters on the screen. She'd extol the thick, rich, and buttery virtues of her syrup to whoever was around to listen. Often, the commercials would center around a plot of two people, one of whom believed in the talking Mrs. Butterworth, and one who didn't. In the end, she'd always prove the latter incorrect, as is the case in the 1987 TV ad below.
Mrs. Butterworth went without a first name for many years, but after a fan voting contest, she finally received the first name of "Joy." She's had her share of run-ins with other famous commercial characters. One is Aunt Jemima, with whom she's frequently confused. Another is Col Sanders, alongside whom she appeared in a KFC commercial which touted their new chicken and waffles platter.
19. The Cavemen - GEICO
Once upon a time, insurance companies were the straight men of the advertising world. They didn't constantly attempt to be funny in the hit-or-miss fashion that they do today. For better or worse, GEICO is one of the companies largely responsible for the massive shift in tone. One of the first characters they used for this was the GEICO Caveman, who first premiered in 2004. A total of 21 commercials would eventually be made, each of them at one point containing the line, "So easy, a caveman could do it." This would invariably upset the Caveman, leading to various forms of outrage on his part.
These commercials proved popular enough to spawn a sitcom spin-off. In 2007, the show Cavemen made its debut on ABC. The series focused on four cavemen of the GEICO mold (though the company and its insurance weren't mentioned on the show), who lived as a minority group in modern-day Atlanta. The show wasn't nearly as popular as the commercials, lasting less than one full season before being cancelled. If you'd like to spend a moment remembering the Caveman in his more successful form, you can view the commercial montage below this paragraph.
20. Mr. Peanut - Planters
We'll conclude our parade of famous TV commercial characters with the ever-popular and recently departed Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe, better known as Mr. Peanut. Mr. Peanut served as the ambassador for Planters in their advertising from 1917 until 2020. He was a distinguished and dapper gentleman, always dressed in a top hat, monocle, and spats. A rather dignified, formal narration would accompany him in many advertising spots, as can be seen in our description of PB Crisps in our 20 Discontinued Snacks and Commercials to Make You Crave Them post.
In 2020, it was decided that Mr. Peanut would be killed off in a Super Bowl commercial. Previews for the ad were shown in January, but the actual commercial ended up being delayed due to the tragic death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash. In the commercial that was developed, Mr. Peanut fell to his death after letting go of a branch hanging over a cliff in order to spare the lives of Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh. Shortly after, a Mr. Peanut funeral commercial aired. In this ad, several mascots attended the service.
One attendee was the Kool-Aid Man. He was moved to tears, with one of these tears hitting the soil, which was then hit by sunlight, causing "Baby Nut" to start growing. A juvenile version of Mr. Peanut, Baby Nut has taken over the advertising helm for the time being, even posting to Planters social media accounts. An error is made in the commercial, as his grave states he lived from 1916-2020, though his first appearance was actually in 2017. You can view a happier Mr. Peanut ad below, which aired during the Christmas season of 1998.
That just about does it for our look back at 20 of the most memorable advertising mascots of all time. We hope this article has provided a fun little break for you and allowed you to relive some of your favorite memories of these famous advertising characters and the promotions in which they appeared. Did we leave out any of your favorites? If we did, let us know. There just might be a Chapter Two to this article someday…
1. Coca-Cola Polar Bears, The Ad Mascot Wiki, accessed 20 May 2020,
2. The Pep Boys Story, Pep Boys, accessed 19 May 2020,
3. The Puttermans (2003) Available at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Puttermans (Accessed: May 20, 2020)