Jared from Subway
Jared Fogle is America's most famous ex-fatty. He went from 425 pounds to 180 pounds in less than a year all thanks to eating Subway sandwiches. Also, he will not stop telling people about it. Before Jared, Subway was most famous for making soggy inferior sandwiches you could buy if you couldn't afford Quizno's or Togo's or something.
After Jared, the chain has been reinvented as the healthy sandwich alternative, with pictures of Jared and his massive pants everywhere, and their menu centered around calorie and fat counting. You wouldn't think that would drive people to Subways in droves, but it's been working like a charm. They recently overtook McDonald's as the largest restaurant chain in the world.
Via Tainted Burrito
Well, at least McDonald's still has the largest customers in the world.
That's why it is so surprising that Subway originally didn't want him. What happened was that Jared decided to lose weight on his own and picked the local Subway for his diet food. After seeing him shrink like a deflating balloon, a friend of his wrote him up in the school paper, which led to an entry in a Men's Health article about "Crazy Diets That Work."
Probably sandwiched between articles about abs.
A Chicago Subway restaurant owner was apparently a Men's Health reader and brought the idea to Subway's ad agency, which brought it to Subway corporate, who told them it was stupid, and no one was going to buy health claims from a fast-food restaurant. Subway legal told them actually one group of people would be pretty interested -- the government, to put them in jail for making medical claims.
The ad agency paid for the first Jared commercials themselves, and some local Subway restaurant owners paid to air them. The next day, the national news was all over them (USA Today, Fox, ABC, Oprah), and the ad agency's phones were ringing off the hook. A few days later, they got a call from Subway, and 11 years later Subway is an entirely new company centered on health benefits (well, and five dollar footlongs). Jared had hit upon the magical slogan: "Our sandwiches taste shitty because they are good for you."
Verizon's "Can You Hear Me Now" Guy
This is a little different from the others because Verizon certainly knew what they wanted to do when they went searching for a spokesman to sign a five year contract with them. But the guy they settled on, Paul Marcarelli, didn't have any idea what he was getting into.
Instead of coming up with a character concept first, Verizon decided to use Marcarelli exactly the way he came -- with his retro hair and his Buddy Holly glasses. That means that unlike a sports mascot or theme park character, Marcarelli couldn't take off his costume when he went home, because he was the costume.
Via Paul Keleher.
Like being glued inside of this 24/7.
That means for the better part of a decade (the contract was renewed), he didn't just play the part of the Verizon Test Guy (the character's official name). He lived, ate and breathed the Verizon Test Guy. Verizon wouldn't even release his name to the public, not even admitting it after a news article printed it, afraid it would break the illusion.
Before the contract, Marcarelli was a hipsterish starving actor sharing an apartment with his actor friends and putting on little-known plays that nobody wanted to see. His first thought when he landed the Verizon job was Think of all the plays we can put on!"
Via David Svensson, Lunds nya Studentteater.
Probably really artsy ones.
Instead, he spent family weddings feeling like an asshole when everyone wanted to take pictures with him instead of focusing on the bride. He was harassed by drunk frat boys driving by his house and shouting, "Can you hear me now?" and later, "Faggot!" (Because he is gay, if you haven't figured it out.) He called the cops and then called them off when he realized that filing a report would make it public and there might be a media to-do about the Verizon guy being gay. He was afraid he'd lose his job.
Now that his contract is winding down, he's switched to wire-rimmed glasses, is writing and producing a film, and is basically allowed to be Paul Marcarelli again.
That's the good thing about Mario, the gecko and the bunny, I guess. Nobody's ever going to thwart their ambitions or scream at their house or start rumors that they're dead. If you're a living human being, though, this might be one "lucky break" you don't want to stumble into.
Be sure to check out The 7 Most Terrifying Corporate Mascots of All-Time. And get more from Christina in 6 Secret Monopolies You Didn't Know Run the World.