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Animated Spokespersons

What do Wilma Flintstone, Spider-Man and the Pink Panther have in common? These classic characters have all been recruited to promote popular products. Janet Hetherington looks into why animated celebs have become spokespersons of choice.

The ladies of Hanna-Barbera get an extreme tone makeover courtesy of Dove. Images courtesy of Unilever Canada. © Turner Broadcasting.

Advertisers are always looking to find new ways to make clients products stand out and be remembered. Among the celebrities pitching everything from hair care to identity theft protection to home insulation are classic animated characters like Wilma Flintstone, Spider-Man and the Pink Panther.

The reason why? Theyre fun.

Dove Styling products chose Marge Simpson, Wilma Flintstone, Jane Jetson and Velma of Scooby-Doo to be animated spokespersons to demonstrate how easily Dove products can free their rigid, model-sheet hairstyles.

We chose well-known, well-loved characters whose hair styles have never changed, to make a point about the feeling of liberation that comes from letting your hair move naturally, says Sophie Kammermayer, brand manager, Dove hair care. For Dove, these classic characters epitomized stuck styles, and we knew women who saw these ads would see humor in them.

The campaign, by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, moved Dove into new territory for a beauty brand. Consumers bored with the scientific approach campaigns comprised of microscopic zooms of hair follicles were tickled by the cheerful, animated treatment.

We used these characters in print, television and transit ads, and the response was very positive across all demographics, Kammermayer says. Women told us they enjoyed seeing well-loved characters talking about freeing their hair from their stuck styles. Women were delighted to see these characters update their looks and have a bit of fun with their hair.

Underdog got his big shot in the spotlight with a collection of superheroes in this Visa Super Bowl ad. Courtesy of Visa.

So Many Heroes

Visa Check Card called in Marvels comicbook heroes and one classic cartoon hero to help save a woman from identity theft in an ad called Super Heroes, which premiered during the 2005 Super Bowl. The lighthearted television spot, created by BBDO NY, features popular Marvel superheroes Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Storm, and Thor. The commercial ends with a final surprise guest visit from Underdog!

From the beginning, it was meant to be hyperbolic and funny demonstrating that you dont have to worry if you have a Visa Check Card, says Jimmy Siegel, sr. exec creative director, BBDO NY. All these heroes show up to help the woman, and they soon realize shes already protected. You called us for this? they ask.

As the ad explains, the Visa check card features security benefits that protect the heroine from fraudulent charges, so the superheroes return to their work of assisting those who really need it. Meanwhile, Underdog shows up as a funny button at the end, Siegel says.

To secure permissions, BBDO NY worked closely with Marvel Comics and Classic Media. Sensitive to the fact that both companies are extremely protective of their characters, BBDO NY wanted to make sure that the ad would stay true to each characters identity. The firm understood that it was using icons, and needed to be respectful of any concerns that each licensee may have had. In the end, BBDO NY found both parties very accommodating in helping to navigate through the clearance process.

The Super Heroes TV spot is a lively combination of live-action and animation, including CG animation for a web-slinging Spider-Man and 2D animation for Underdog. We also had to provide lightning for Thors hammer, create concrete chunks for Captain Americas appearance and completely replace the sky, says Keith McCabe, CG supervisor for Charlex, the company handling the animation.

At one point in the ad, Spider-Man has to fly on a thread, and animation proved to be the only way to handle the action. There was no way to practically shoot that, McCabe says. Maya was used to create a model of Spider-Man, which was rendered in mental ray. Render times were pretty good, McCabe recalls. At first, Charlex used high-res photos of the character from the ad for reference, but later, the actual Spidey suit was sent to Charlex. They mailed us this $10,000 suit, McCabe says, so we were able to match the texture exactly.

On the CG side, the Charlex team included Alex Cheparev (modeling lead), Stephen Mann (lead character TD) and Anthony Tabtong (lead animator). Bill Watral (lead effects TD) created Thors lightning, Caps concrete chunks and the roiling clouds in the sky.

As for Underdog, the image of the pup of power was created by BuzzCo and integrated into the action by Charlexs Flame artists. He was done in 2D cel animation and integrated into the live background, McCabe explains. Charlexs Flame team included Marc Goldfine (vp and senior Flame artist), Burtis Scott (senior Flame artist) and Christopher Palazini (senior Smoke editor).

Charlex had a tight three-week schedule to complete the animation. McCabe recalls it as being a lot of work, but well worth it Marvel and Underdog fans working at Charlex got a chance to bring the characters to life. This is one of those jobs that everyone still talks about, McCabe says. Tony [Tabtong] didnt even have to look at any reference for Spider-Man, hes such a huge fan. Its always fun to do something so recognizable.

As for Visa, the company is pleased with the heroic effort. The Super Heroes spot has been a great success, helping educate consumers about the security protections offered to them by their Visa Check Card by using the super heroes to reinforce an important security message in a way that was both reassuring and lighthearted, a Visa spokesperson told AWN. Our research has shown that consumers feel much more confident knowing that they are not liable for fraudulent charges through Visas Zero Liability policy.

Whether in 2D or 3D, Popeye still packs a powerful punch for marketing products. © King Features Syndicate.

Animated Icons

Of course, using animated characters as spokespersons isnt new. Popeye, who celebrated his 75th anniversary in 2004, has made Popeye-brand canned spinach the No. 2 brand behind Del Monte, and he also has his own brand of fresh spinach, salads and fresh vegetable snacks. The sailor man also punched up supermarket sales of everything from Pepsi to popcorn, not to mention millions of T-shirts, caps, jackets and collectors watches. King Features notes that Popeye was a key first character to invade, in an important way, the toy and novelty field. From tin wind-up toys to puzzles and kazoo pipes, early Popeye novelty merchandise now carries staggering price tags in antique shops and flea markets.

Children and adults alike respond to animated spokespersons, which is probably why so many animated characters have been used to promote breakfast cereals. In 1952, Kellogg ran a contest to see who would represent their new cereal called Kelloggs Sugar Frosted Flakes of Corn. The contestants were Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, Newt the Gnu and Tony the Tiger. After a close race (Katy and Tony actually shared the front of the box at first), Tony the Tiger became the sole spokesperson for the cereal in 1953. The tiger with the booming voice and the signature line, Theyre Gr-r-reat! is seen and heard in at least 42 different countries.

One of the reasons animated spokespersons are so enduring is that they continue to live on, says George Longley, art director and writer for Leo Burnett, an agency that has worked on numerous animated characters, including Kelloggs. Thurl Ravenscroft, who provided the voice for Tony the Tiger for over 50 years, died recently, yet Tony is still here. Longley also notes that animated characters evolve or adjust to fit the requirements of the target market. In Mexico, Tony the Tiger has slightly puffier ears, while here theyre more straight, he says.

The catch phrase  Theyre Gr-r-reat!  has become synonymous with Tony the Tiger and Frosted Flakes. © &  Kellogg Co.

Chuck Gammage, owner of Chuck Gammage Animation Inc., says that his company was responsible for creating a new styleguide for Tony the Tiger for Kellogg (U.S). Gammage, who says his firm is known for a Roger Rabbit style of combining live-action and animation, has also animated such spokespersons as Toucan Sam, Snap, Crackle & Pop, the Raid insects, Hubba & Bubba, Danimals, Uder the Cow and the Pink Panther. In fact, Gammage is sponsoring the Pink Panther screening at the Ottawa International Animation Festival this year.

Think Pink

The Pink Panther is celebrating his silver anniversary as spokesperson for Owens Corning OC PINK insulation products and other OC products. I think in our particular case, with the color, its a natural association, says Lynne Hartzell, director of strategic marketing and branch communications for Owens Corning.

Leading up to the new live-action film in February, the Pink Panthers star has risen as a spokesperson as seen in this Sweet n Low spot done by Hornet. © 2005 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All rights reserved.

The cool cat is actually hot these days, due to the new MGM Pink Panther movie coming out starring Steve Martin and Kevin Kline, currently scheduled for a 2006 release. Were hoping the new movie will attract a younger demographic for us, those who are 25 to 30 years old and dont necessarily remember the Peter Sellers movie, Hartzell says. We plan to do some things around the movie likely in-theater spots, contests and sweepstakes with a call-to-action to our website, Hartzell says.

Homeowners, young and old, are also being targeted with a brand new T.V. spot featuring the Pink Panther, to air for three months on HGTV beginning in September. The new spot promotes Exterior Owens Corning and how OC is a great resource for the entire home, Hartzell says. She explains that the commercial shows the Pink Panther (and his trademark music) creeping into the home of a sleeping couple. After putting pink earphones on the pair, the Pink Panther personally renovates the home that has great bones but needs a little lipstick. The couple awake to find a renovated house, including a new fireplace. The message is that Owens Corning has everything to make your home a more comfortable and more beautiful place to live, Hartzell says.

Chuck Gammage animated the new OC Pink Panther spot. We were provided a script and agency board, but we recreated the board to show them what we were going to do, Gammage says. The Pink Panther was 2D animation, completely hand-drawn, while props like the hammer and the vacuum cleaner were done in 3D, he says.

Gammage says that 2D reference was handed over to his CG artist, who used Maya to complete the work.

Keeping the panther in the pink is an exacting job. Were provided with a style guide from MGM which we must follow closely, Gammage says. Part of the style guide is the pink color a color code or palette. Its all done through the computer so you type in a code to get the right color.

Gammage personally had a hand in animating the Pink Panther, along with Sam Chou and Trevor Deane-Freeman. Ray Pang handled all effects, while compositing was done by Sheamus OKeeffe. It was a tight schedule, with a four-week turnaround, with another week to do color and comp. It was 10 weeks altogether to post, Gammage says.

Its hard to believe, but veteran spokesperson Pink Panther almost didnt get the gig. Twenty-five years ago when senior executives pitched the idea of using the Pink Panther to advertise OC PINK insulation products to then-ceo Bill Boeschenstein, they werent prepared for his response, Whos the Pink Panther?

The idea to use the United Artist cartoon character was suggested by Roger Butler of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency in New York City. For several years, Owens Corning had been represented on television by a friendly man either wearing a suit or working in an attic wearing a plaid shirt. Following Butlers recommendation, a handful of senior executives made the decision to adopt the Pink Panther as the new company spokesperson.

The execs suddenly found themselves facing an even bigger question. Who would tell the chairman? They knew someone needed to tell Boeschenstein before he saw the first ad on TV.

Joe Doherty, then vp of marketing communication, was chosen. We spent the whole evening before talking about things that were important can we get music rights, can we get exclusivity, can we get this, can we get that. Nobody thought to ask the question, Will he know who the Pink Panther is? We go into the meeting and he says, Whos the Pink Panther? We nearly died, Doherty recalls.

But Bill was smart enough and sharp enough to say Joe, its not important if I know or dont know who the Pink Panther is. What is important is that the people were selling this product to know who the Pink Panther is. He was absolutely right, says Doherty.

To make sure the Pink Panther was widely recognized, the companys ad agency did a lot of research, including intercepting people in shopping malls and asking them to look at a series of cards. The cards depicted various animated characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Kermit the Frog and the Pink Panther, who reportedly passed the tests paws down.

By the end of the 1980s, Owens Corning found that consumer preference for its PINK insulation products was more than five times stronger than the closest competition. The Pink Panther also made the first significant dent in the confusion about who makes Corning Ware products. For the first time, at least some people associated Owens Corning with the Pink Panther and PINK insulation, instead of kitchen products originally made by Corning Glass. A survey late in the decade found that 85 % of U.S. consumers recalled the Pink Panther as OCs spokesperson.

Acme Filmworks gives the Charmin Bears their cha cha steps. © Procter & Gamble.

Charmin Animation

Companies rely strongly on the impact of their spokespersons, animated or not. For Procter & Gamble, the kindly Mr. Whipple was a long-standing part of its Charmin bathroom tissue brands success, from 1964 until Mr. Whipples retirement in 1985. In fact, Mr. Whipple was once voted third most well known American, and the Please Dont Squeeze the Charmin slogan still appears, some 20 years later, on lists of top 10 ad slogans.

Enter the Charmin bears, who through distinctive, graceful animation answer the question, Do bears dance in the woods?

The bears came about as we were searching for a replacement that could build the same level of emotional connection with the brand, says Celeste Kuta, P&Gs family care external relations spokesperson. The Charmin bear is like our product (soft and strong) and the animation allows us to communicate his pleasure with the product in a way that is difficult with a real person (i.e., his facial expressions, his joyful movements). He is fun-loving and behaves like a big lovable favorite uncle.

The bear campaign was actually created in the U.K., with P&G bringing it to the U.S. in 2000. Music and dance were added to it based on the success of this approach in Mexico. It truly is an international approach, taking successful elements from around the world, Kuta says. Consumers love the Cha-Cha-Cha! Charmin butt wiggle of the bear at the end, and will spontaneously sing and wiggle to us in focus groups or when they see our Charmin Ultra Potty Palooza visiting at a local festival.

The bears have become so popular, they now have names Leonard, Molly, Bill, Dylan and Amy.

While P&G is primarily focusing on television and radio advertising, the company has the bears appearing in print and on the Internet as well. Radio advertising would have the songs from the TV ads, Kuta says. For example, you can go to Dylan on Meet the Bears part of website ( and play his song. This was a TV commercial with bears dancing, but the music part was a radio commercial. This particular commercial was top rated in the consumer product category for recall by Ad Age one quarter last year, and we received numerous requests from consumers for words or telling us that they couldnt stop singing it! Some even said their 3- or 4-year-olds sing it all the time.

Based on the success of using the bears in its ads, P&G added the Charmin bear to all packaging in January 2004. The bear is used to communicate product benefits (i.e., scents, aloe and E, lotion) as well as the different size rolls, Kuta says. The bear on the package does different things depending on product (dance in field of flowers for scents for instance) and size. This is another area where an animated character can communicate the product attributes much better than a real person.

Trust and Recognition

Animated spokespersons enjoy instant recognition and connection with their audience. They also make products appealing and fun. Bath tissue is a difficult product to advertise and communicate benefits, and an animated character allows you to do this in a fun, engaging manner, observes Kuta of P&Gs Charmin brand.

We call the Pink Panther the clutter cutter, notes Hartzell of Owens Corning. The Pink Panther makes you want to open a piece of direct mail, for example, or find out more about the product.

Animated characters appeal to the kid in all of us, says Longley of Leo Burnett. Plus, they never grow old.

There is an element of nostalgia involved, says BBDO NYs Siegel of the Visa Check Card campaign. We grew up with these characters, and here they are, being brought to life. In addition, every year we see a new movie Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Superman and when its taken all together, it makes an ad campaign like this interesting.

Will animated spokespersons continue to pitch popular products? Never fear, Underdog is here!

Janet Hetherington is a freelance writer and cartoonist who shares a studio in Ottawa, Canada with artist Ronn Sutton (who once animated the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee). Janet frequently contributes to Animation World Network.