5 Iconic Corporate Mascots Invented by Mistake
People who can't be bothered to care about insurance can be made to pay attention, for some reason, when there is a British lizard talking at them. That's why corporations all over have made cartoony animals and interesting humans the face of their company, fusing them with their logos like some kind of horrifying cyborg.
Most of these mascots were developed through painstaking market research with focus groups and consultants and all that crap, but some came about by crazy accidents, turning from one-shot jokes and planned easter eggs into company spokesmen. For example ...
The Geico Gecko
These days it seems like you can't get away from this Cockney lizard trying to sell you car insurance. He's constantly on TV, he appears in costumed mascot form at random county fairs and sporting events, and if you should ever wreck your car by, say, hypothetically driving it into your garage while a bike is on your after-market roof rack, and you happen to be insured by Geico, well, after you finish cursing, you'll very likely bring it to a shop you can tell is approved by Geico because of the numerous human-sized gecko displays.
The shop that I -- I mean this hypothetical person -- went to had a cardboard gecko display out on the sidewalk too, and a couple of posters and merchandise inside.
The sheer amount of money being spent on Geico's ad campaigns ($800 million in 2010) has gotten so out of control that it's making other insurance companies amp up their spending just to keep up.
State Farm in particular has had to make some really weird promises about what they can do.
And while a lot of that was being spent on the cavemen or the stack of money with googly eyes or one of their many many other campaigns, the gecko has been their moral leader since 1999, and it's his face that goes on their corporate logo.
So how on earth did Geico decide that an animated lizard with a British accent was the best face to put on a stodgy American insurance company? Well, they didn't really. They just wanted to make one commercial, in 1999, using a one-off joke to make sure people knew how to pronounce their company's name.
Yeah, that's Frasier doing his voice.
So it was supposed to be one and done for the gecko, until the Screen Actors Guild strike hit in 2000. In a scramble to find someone who wasn't part of the SAG, they stumbled back on the animated gecko they'd just used and signed him up for a whole campaign. So yeah, the Geico gecko is a dirty scab.
From then on, the inexplicably posh gecko captured people's hearts and attention with how much sense he didn't make, and slithered his way from a one-off commercial into a corporate logo.
Nintendo's famous Mario not only appears in about 120 percent of its games these days, but is also enmeshed irrevocably with its corporate image like tentacles in a host.
You're probably not wondering why Japan's most famous corporate mascot is an Italian plumber, because it's Japan. It could have been an emu with human hands and we wouldn't have batted an eye.
"Ohhh, it's a Japanese game. Of course."
But it's not just "a Japan thing." There's actually a reason behind everything Mario. Mario's first appearance was in a Japanese game called Jumpman (later called Donkey Kong), and he was known as "Mr. Video," a recurring character that his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, hoped to slip into all the games he made, the same way Alfred Hitchcock gave himself a cameo role in all his films, except with better names.
Mario's gloves, mustache and overalls were the game designers' creative way of making the characters' hands, arms and facial features distinguishable in a 16x16 pixel space. The mustache was a great way to save pixels on the mouth, and the overall straps helped you see where his arms started. So just by trying to make the character's limbs and face readable, they accidentally created what looked like an Italian plumber, with the inexplicable name Mr. Video.
Fortunately for Nintendo, the Nintendo of America team working on translating the game got behind on their rent, which caused their landlord to come in and demand it. The landlord happened to be an Italian guy with suspenders named Mario Segale, and thanks to him walking in at the opportune moment, his name would never be forgotten, even though he seems to wish it was.
The Energizer Bunny
If you're a young whippersnapper, you won't remember the heyday of the Energizer Bunny -- or appreciate the classic tunes of Vanilla Ice or New Kids on the Block. From its creation in 1989, the Energizer Bunny interrupted fake commercials for coffee or some other boring product by drumming across the screen in the middle of the scene.
He's made 115 commercials at last count, being so hot at one point that he got screen time with Darth Vader.
And though his screen time has died down, he's still all over Energizer's website, and its packaging:
And he represents them at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade during the tribute to the most influential fictional characters in America that are shaped in ways which lend themselves to being formed into balloons:
If you ask people in the U.K. which battery is associated with a bunny, though, you might hear "Duracell," because people overseas are silly and don't know any better. But also because Duracell originated the use of the drumming toy bunny as a mascot in a European commercial.
Duracell's commercial showed an army of battery-powered bunnies slowly winding down, with the Duracell bunny being the last one going. So Energizer's very first bunny ad was actually an attack on the Duracell bunny, claiming they could beat the whole pack, including Duracell.
And that they could look cooler doing so. (In 1989, putting sunglasses on characters still made them cool.) So while the Duracell bunny still reigns supreme overseas, nobody in the U.S. knows what the fuck it is, while the Energizer bunny has been referenced by Americans in all walks of life -- including the highest level of awkward politicians trying to say something hip and relevant, from Bob Dole to Howard Dean to George H.W. Bush, and is still, as they say, "going and going and going."
I'll take my payment in cash, Energizer.
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.
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.
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!"
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.