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Enough Already: Spokespeople We Could Live Without

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I want a boyfriend. But not for the usual reasons of wanting a boyfriend—I actually enjoy being single. I’d like a boyfriend for just a minute, just long enough to do my small part in supporting the best advertising campaign in circulation right now; I want to buy my momentary boyfriend a big bottle of Old Spice Body Wash.

Perhaps you’ve seen the strapping man Isaiah Mustafa, former NFL wide receiver and now Old Spice Guy, in the shower, on a boat, on a horse, telling men in his suave voice to stop using “ladies’ scented body wash” and to “smell like a man, man.” This world-beating campaign is a delight of dry humor and originality; the spokesman embodies the brand identity, is appealing across multiple demographics, and is decidedly unannoying—if brand metrics are to be believed. According to quoting Nielson data, sales of Old Spice Body Wash are up 55 percent this summer, thanks to that viral campaign. And on YouTube, the Old Spice Guy’s original spot has had over eighteen million views in the last six months. Those aren’t Justin Bieber numbers, but for a commercial, they’re impressive, to say the least.

Not all spokespeople are so magnetic, however. There are plenty of corporate shills of the human, anthropomorphic, or animated variety that could really stand to remove themselves from the pop-culture fray and go their merry way into obscurity. Here are a few such individuals.

Rachael Ray for Dunkin’ Donuts
It was either a stroke of mad genius or a bona fide brain fart that inspired the Dunkin’ Donuts marketing department to turn to one of the most ubiquitous and obnoxious personalities in America to be a spokeswoman for the corporation. If you so much as glance at a television between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., chances are, you’ll catch Ms. Ray cooking something, eating something, sharing one of her dull recipes, or, since June 2008, sharing her enthusiasm for the delectable coffees and snacks of your nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. As if we weren’t already seeing enough of her.

The GEICO Gecko
GEICO’s advertising is a confusion of spokesthings: the Caveman, the stack of money with googly eyes, and the debonair gecko. You could have a fairly long debate about which is the most effective advertising trope and which is the most likely to be kicked if encountered on the street. My money’s on the gecko. His beginnings are interesting enough: he was employed in 1999, while the Screen Actors Guild was on strike. Human actors couldn’t be used, so GEICO resorted to animating and anthropomorphizing a day gecko and, voilà, advertising history was made. Eleven years later, we’re all wondering when the Gecko Actors Guild will go on strike.

Honda’s Mr. Opportunity and Erin Esurance
While we’re on the topic of sassy spokesanimations, I see no reason not to mention Honda’s Mr. Opportunity and Erin Esurance in the same go, since they seem to be born of the same focus groups, which apparently indicate humans’ greater trust in computer-animated characters than in actual people. Mr. Opportunity, having been around since 2004, seems to have gotten an attitude adjustment of late, shedding his traditional line, “I’m Mr. Opportunity, and I’m knockin’!” for less predictable larks. But that doesn’t keep him from being the tired face of Honda’s annual clearance sale. Erin Esurance, likewise, seems to have worn out her welcome and was officially, thankfully, retired by Esurance in June 2010. No one really bought the insurance-superhero comparison anyway. Or did you? Erin Esurance always seemed built more for frat-house humor than for effectual advertising.

The Snuggle Bear
Sun Products’ faith in America’s undying love of all things cute is readily apparent in its enduring loyalty to the sickly-sweet Snuggle, the teddy bear that represents the company’s fabric softener product. The gender-ambiguous bear and its totally creepy, Chucky-like voice are enough to snap more-delicate minds into shards of insanity, but for some, those features might not be too high a price to pay for snuggly-soft bath towels.

The ShamWow! Guy
You can’t write an article about dubious spokespeople without giving a nod to the ShamWow! guy. Once a staple of late-night TV, Vince Offer and his ShamWow!s seemed a magnetic combination—so much so that you’ll likely find a stack of forgotten ShamWow!s in any average American garage. But the cornerstone of Offer’s magnetism was the way it seemed like he might spin off this plane of reality at any moment. Those infomercials were riveting because you had the sense that you were going to witness a prime-time train wreck, and you wanted to be there for it. Offer has since hung up his act, thanks largely to his arrest for felony battery in Florida. But he remains, to this day, the archetype of spokesperson poison.

Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl
Between Erin Esurance, the GEICO gecko (et al.), and Progressive’s perky Flo, you’ve got to wonder what it is about the insurance business that makes it lean so heavily on droll spokespeople—perhaps because they understand our implicit mistrust of their dealings, so they tantalize us with seemingly harmless and helpful representatives who will cause us to glaze over and forget what a pain in the neck the whole business of insurance is. Flo is succeeding in that endeavor wildly—since her 2008 debut, the Progressive brand has thrived—so it seems we’ll be stuck with her a bit longer, like it or not.

In this modern world, we’re all constant victims of marketing, pummeled by the best intentions of brand strategists and wing nut advertising creatives who may have spent a little too much time at the office coffee urn. All we ask is that agencies try—try to entertain us, try to give us something worth those thirty seconds we’ll never get back. Give us wit, intelligence, originality, and novelty. For the love of all that is good in the world, give us the Old Spice Guy every time.


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