ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- When Virginia-based Eskimo Pie Corp. wanted a real Eskimo to trumpet its chocolate-covered ice cream bars, the company scoured the Arctic for talent.
They found Vincent Tocktoo.
The 66-year-old native of Shishmaref, a fishing village on the Bering Sea, beat out about 120 other Eskimo contenders at an audition in Nome. Why Mr. Tocktoo?
"They had an Eskimo Pie, they needed an Eskimo man," he says.
His daughter, Darlene Tucker, elaborates: "My dad has got a real loving personality."
In May, Mr. Tocktoo flew to Seattle to make his fourth Eskimo Pie television commercial. This time Mr. Tocktoo was selling sugar-free ice cream bars.
"Hey, a polar bear with a sweet tooth ate all my regular Eskimo Pies," he says, perched atop an igloo in his fur-lined parka. "Bum me out."
A growl is heard and the camera shot widens to show a studio version of a polar bear breaking into Mr. Tocktoo's igloo. The message is, polar bears like sugar-free Eskimo Pies just as much as regular ones.
"The whole spot is kind of tongue-in-cheek," says J. R. Hipple of Hawley Martin Hipple, Eskimo Pie's public relations firm.
Indeed, one of the first ads -- which won a Clio, a prestigious advertising award, in 1988 -- is a shot of Mr. Tocktoo picnicking with his wife, Molly, along the Iditarod Trail on the Bering Sea. He comments on how nice it is to find an out-of-the-way picnic spot to eat Eskimo Pies.
Mr. Hipple says Mr. Tocktoo stood out as the obvious choice. "He is just as real as they come, very innocent in a compelling way," he says. "Not naive, just very honest and very forthright. That's something the company feels it stands for."
Seventy years ago, when the founders of Eskimo Pie came up with a chocolate-covered ice cream bar, the market was about as crowded as the tundra. But by the late 1980s, virtually everyone had ice cream-on-a-stick, including food giants such as General Mills and Pillsbury.
George Murphy, vice president of marketing for Eskimo Pie, says in the midst of these hundreds of competing products, the name "Eskimo Pie" was threatening to become generic, like Kleenex. Customers were thinking all ice cream bars were Eskimo Pies.
So the company went in search of a "genuine" Eskimo to boost the idea that Eskimo Pies were the only "genuine" product.