Mr. Peanut, Miss Chiquita want your vote

And so does a mob of other ad mascots competing to be America's favorite

Material World

August 22, 2004|By Roy Rivenburg | Roy Rivenburg,LOS ANGELES TIMES

In what could be the weirdest election since California's recall race, a hyperactive bunny, a steroid-pumped clean freak, a giggling blob of dough and 23 other product mascots are campaigning to become America's favorite advertising icon.

The battle of the mascots began earlier this month in New York City. After posing for TV news crews and listening to former Mayor Ed Koch give pointers on how to kiss babies and shake hands, a herd of mascots - including Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, Kool-Aid Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy - invaded the streets to hustle votes.

Mr. Peanut passed out fliers saying, "At least this candidate freely admits that he's a nut." Miss Chiquita, referring to herself as the "First Lady of Fruit," sang her banana jingle in Japanese and told reporters she was worried about all the chemicals inside rival candidate Mr. Clean. The Michelin Man suffered a wardrobe malfunction - his costume deflated - and was whisked from the scene for repairs.

The mascot election, now under way on the Internet - at http://promotions.yahoo.com/advertisingweek_2004 is being sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agen- cies as a gimmick to promote its September convention. Balloting ends Sept. 3, and winners will be announced Sept. 20.

The top five vote-getters will be immortalized in concrete on Madison Avenue's new Advertising Walk of Fame. Sadly, the sidewalk markers won't include handprints, an option that would have been amusing if the Jolly Green Giant were to win.

Some of the mascots are taking the election extremely seriously. Mr. Clean has put together the most elaborate campaign platform. On education, for instance, he supports letting children draw on any surface they want. "If we limit their creativity, there would be no crayon marks on the walls to remove with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser," he said.

Clean, a muscle-bound Cincinnati native whose little-known first name is Veritably, has also been endorsed by the Care Bears. "A vote for me is a vote for a spot-free future," he said in a telephone interview. He also claimed he could whip the

Jolly Green Giant in an arm-wrestling match.

In contrast, McGruff the Crime Dog, like fellow public-service candidates Smokey Bear and the Crash Test Dummies, is running as a single-issue candidate. The trench coat-wearing canine's sole promise is to "take a bite out of crime."

Nevertheless, on the campaign trail, McGruff has an unusual advantage over his rivals. Whereas there is only one Ronald McDonald, two M&M characters and three California Raisins, there are thousands of McGruffs. Campaign strategists claim to have stockpiled 2,000 McGruff costumes and thousands of McGruff puppets nationwide.

However, the dog's candidacy could be derailed by concerns over his age. Born in 1980, he is 24 years old, which is 168 in human years.

Then again, McGruff isn't the only candidate with a skeleton in his closet. Colombian coffee mascot Juan Valdez has been accused of being an "agent of Satan" because of his uncanny ability to "appear and disappear at will" during his TV commercials.

The original Miss Chiquita was drawn in 1944 by the same artist who is responsible for Hagar the Horrible. And Kool-Aid Man has crashed through so many brick walls when summoned by thirsty youngsters that medical experts believe he might have sustained permanent neurological damage.

So far, however, the mascot campaign has produced very little mudslinging. That's partly because only a handful of icons possess the ability to speak. Or, if they do talk, their vocabulary is extremely limited.

"Our campaign is about actions, not words," said Al Johnson, chief strategist for the AFLAC duck's election effort. "Well, maybe one word: AFLAAAAC!"

Of the 26 mascots on the ballot, the 4-year-old fowl is the youngest. "He's a duck of the 21st century, not one of those stodgy old icons that have been around for decades," Johnson said. "He's Web-savvy, he champions the underduck, and he knows bills and how to get them through." AFLAC Insurance Co. employees say the duck plans a bipartisan campaign. "He has both a left and a right wing," press secretary Laura Kane noted.

A few mascots are counting on name recognition to put them over the top. Or sympathy. The Trix Rabbit could score votes from people who feel sorry that he never gets to eat his namesake cereal.

But other icons are more aggressively courting voters:

Kellogg's spokes-tiger Tony headed for Chicago and Denver this past week aboard his customized Tonymobile.

The Jolly Green Giant, who hasn't sat down since 1925, when he was born, is buying a campaign ad in USA Today.

Ronald McDonald just secured an endorsement from Mayor McCheese.

Kool-Aid Man is touting his economic recovery plan ("Each summer, he helps create thousands of jobs via front-yard Kool-Aid stands").

And the Energizer Bunny is floating around Texas. Literally. The pink rabbit-shaped "Hot-Hare" balloon is the largest hot-air ship in the world. At 166 feet, it's taller than the Statue of Liberty, and the ears alone are as big as the faces on Mount Rushmore.

The bunny is the best choice, campaign manager Harriet Blickenstaff says. In TV ads, "he's been pursued by King Kong, a vampire and Darth Vader," which bodes well for his ability to handle foreign dictators.

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