What do a little girl in a yellow dress, a tuna fish wearing a beret, a woman in red, and a peanut with a monocle all have in common? Each one is a brand icon with a signature style that spans the decades. Their names will become easily recognizable in our countdown of advertising’s 10 most stylish mascots and spokespeople, proving that fashions fade but brand mascots are eternal.
10. The Brawny Man
Kicking off this countdown is none other than the rugged fellow who has graced the packaging for Georgia-Pacific’s Brawny Paper Towels since 1974: The Brawny Man.
Jen Salamandick, Strategy Director and Partner at Kick Point, believes The Brawny Man has a certain je ne sais quoi about him. “Maybe it’s the broad shoulders under his classic red plaid shirt, or his strong jaw combined with that subtle chin dimple… Hard to say for sure. Either way, a paper towel mascot becoming a popular Halloween costume is impressive!”
A Halloween costume that has made a few adjustments with the times, that is. Today, The Brawny Man is a world away from his 1970s counterpart. The moustache has been shaved off in favor of a clean-shaven face with a hint of stubble. He has opted to button up that infamous red plaid shirt and while the better part of his face is currently cropped from our line of vision, it doesn’t mean he’s any less recognizable to consumers.
“He’s the OG hipster with his red flannel.” Rebecca Lysen, Creative Director at Phear Creative, says. She also adds, “He inspired a generation of lumber-sexuals as they reached for a paper towel to clean up their spilled PBR.”
All in a day’s work for The Brawny Man, who goes by the tagline of “Stay giant: Always face life’s challenges with strength of character.”
9. Morton Salt Girl
When the Morton Salt Girl made her debut in 1914, she had curly blonde hair and carried an umbrella almost as big as she was. Over the decades, her hair began to straighten and her dress turned its iconic yellow shade in 1941. By 1968, the Morton Salt Girl had her yellow dress, carefree smile, umbrella, and salt, flavoring meals for generations of people then and now with the slogan “When it rains, it pours.”
The little girl who made her debut in Good Housekeeping fascinated Americans. Who was she? Was there a real-life inspiration behind her? According to the Morton Salt archives, she was a true original and was used in a substitute ad that caught the eye of Sterling Morton, the son of Morton Salt Company’s Founder Joy Morton.
As the Morton Salt Girl celebrated her 100th anniversary in 2014, Ashleigh Hansberger, Co-Founder and Brand Strategist at Motto, considers her to be one of the most iconic brand mascots, period. “The style of her dress and hair has changed to stay in vogue, yet her consumer appeal has stood the test of time.”
Founder, ad spokesperson, and the “ruler of the fast food world” according to his Twitter account, few fast food chains can boost enduring over the years — while constantly wearing a suit and tie — quite like Jack from Jack in the Box.
In his early days, Jack took customer orders from atop the Jack in the Box drive-thru speaker box, noted as “a cute clown” by drivers ordering on the go. In 1980, the “Jack Explodes”commercial marked the beginning of a new era to catering to adult tastes, with Jack blowing up to smithereens. He returned to his reborn founder roots in 1995 with the “Jack’s Back”campaign, taking back his company in the longest ongoing ad campaign in the fast food industry.
While Erik Hernandez, Partner and Lead Strategist at Tilted Chair Creative, notes that Jack’s signature head and pointy nose paved the way for trendy car antenna accessories, he notes that ultimately Jack’s greatest style asset comes with his “no more BS” attitude. “[This attitude] has endured and allowed Jack in the Box to constantly stay ahead of market trends and do things the way they want to do it. I think this demonstrates that having a mascot with a purposeful mission and relatable personality is always stylish and fashionable.”
7. Chester Cheetah
Wearing high top sneakers, sunglasses, and all about the laidback vibes — unless, of course, there was a bag of Cheetos present — Chester Cheetah ruled the 1990s as its resident cool cat of snacks. Chester strutted around cracking wise that his snacks were “dangerously cheesy” and even became so popular that PepsiCo wanted him to have his own Saturday morning cartoon. (The “program-length commercial” was nixed before a pilot could ever be created.)
Dave Fiore, Chief Creative Officer at Catapult, has been studying brand icons for years and worked on campaigns for the Jolly Green Giant and Charlie the Tuna. He has a special place in his heart for Chester, breaking down elements of his iconic aesthetic.
The Sneakers: “Just look at the over-sized, untied high tops. Well, I’m sure the lawyers won’t let the brand show untied laces — because that wouldn’t be safe, kids — but the shoes are definitely loose at the top, as if they’re untied.”
That Coif: “That blown-back coif says that whatever he’s been up to, it was fast, man.”
Those Sunglasses: “The real style maker on Chester for me are his beat-nick, wayfarer Ray-Bans. They could have chosen highway cop aviators, or Terminator wrap-arounds, or John Lennon circle shades. All of them cool. But the wayfarers embody the social rebel that is Chester Cheetah – snarky, fun, too cool for school. They’re Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club. Nicholson in Easy Rider. Cruise in Risky Business. Rebels, all. Break the rules and eat some Cheetos.”
6. The Green M&M
Everyone knows the six members of the Mars M&M candy ensemble by heart — Red, Yellow, Blue, Orange, Brown, and Green. But when the crew first launched in the 1990s, it was Green who had everyone, aptly enough, melting over her character.
Susan Credle, Global Creative Officer at FCB, had her finger on the pulse in bringing the Green M&M to life. From her time at BBDO, Credle recalls that Green’s personality came about from a spicy urban legend, “The Green M&M’s personality was inspired by the urban myth that green M&Ms made people horny. The line at her launch was ‘What is it about the green ones?’”
Voice actress Cree Summer was hired to be the voice of the Green M&M from the outset and Credle did the demo tracks for Green’s films. “Somewhere along the line, a reporter misreported that I did the voice for the very first advertisement. I only did the voice in one ad and I only had one line, ‘I’m naked!!!’ It was a case of demo love, I guess. It happens sometimes.”
And while Green currently wears strappy stilettos, she’s notorious for her go-go boots. Credle considered the pros and cons of various footwear options for Green before she settled on the boots, “Green had white go-go boots because her legs looked like hose pipes when we put her in shoes. And pumps made her look slightly dowdy. We were trying to figure out how to give her some shape and it just wasn’t working. Boots could solve this easily. The white boots were the best with the white M and bright green shell. And her silver ‘M-bit’ across the top of the boot was very Gucci. We wanted her to be stylish. That’s the story as I know it.”
5. Mr. Clean
Commercial artist Richard Black’s guidelines for drawing Procter and Gamble’s Mr. Clean in 1957 were simple: make him look like a genie dressed in white, bald, muscular, and with a ring in his nose. Black compiled to the original specs, but drew a second version that was less genie-like and had a ring in his ear. This version won over his wife, P&G, and women in households throughout the world.
Within six months of being introduced, Mr. Clean became America’s top-selling household cleaner. In 1998, even People Magazine took note that when it came to sex appeal, bald was beautiful, and featured Mr. Clean in their roundup of bald babes.
While Mr. Clean (first name: Veritably) maintains a modest profile these days and is self-described on his website as “a man of few words, but many muscles” his adoring fans still can’t get enough of him — or his iconic style.
“Mr. Clean is a straight up hottie.” Tara Lee Byrne, Account Supervisor at Phear Creative gushes, “It’s his simple look — white t-shirt and muscular physique — that has transcended the trends of every decade, looking just as sharp and iconic today as he did in the late ‘50s early ‘60s.”
4. Charlie the Tuna
There’s nothing to be “Sorry Charlie” about when it comes to this tuna’s lasting sense of style. The Morton Salt Girl might not have been based on anyone specific, but StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna does have real-life inspiration roots.
Created by Leo Burnett copywriter Tom Rogers, Charlie is actually based on a beat-scene actor friend of Rogers’ from East Village in New York. Rogers was rumored to have complete control over the character, including his physical characteristics. When Charlie made his campaign debut in 1961, he arrived wearing trendy thick-rimmed glasses and a red beret. Charlie has been rocking his classic beatnik-inspired look ever since as a well-loved brand figure with no plans in sight to abandon his signature “good taste” anytime soon.
3. Betty Crocker
As General Mills celebrates its 150th birthday this year, there is one brand icon on their roster who has continued to remain effortlessly fashion forward: Betty Crocker. A trusted source for recipes and homemaking know-how, Betty’s products make her a household name and her style keeps her at the peak of class. General Mills sent along a brief, thrilling, look behind the scenes of what goes into updating a portrait of Betty through the decades from her hairstyle to her signature red ensemble.
Lady in Red: Neysa McMein, the first portrait artist for Betty Crocker, chose to put her in a red outfit despite being told not to. Her decision paid off as executives approved the portrait. In 1955, when executives decided to modernize Betty, market studies proved that they could change her face, but not the red ensemble. Her red, along with white around the collar, stayed because of its lasting power with consumers who could relate it as Betty.
Getting the Hair, Makeup, and Jewelry Together: For portraits, market research and beauty experts were called upon to help artists depict relatable hairstyles, makeup, jewelry, and fashion for consumers. For the 1972 Betty portrait, trend experts were brought in to help with hair and makeup. David Crystal assisted with the fashion and Monet helped with jewelry, both companies being subsidiaries of General Mills at the time.
Was Betty Inspired By a Real Person? Unfortunately, no. The closest evidence that General Mills has for a likeness of Betty Crocker to a real person is in Hilda Taylor’s 1955 Betty portrait. Taylor modeled Betty’s face from her neighbor, Muriel Wadsworth, within that portrait.
2. Mr. Peanut
Born Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe in 1916, it’s not likely that you’ll ever meet a nut this side of the advertising industry as stylish or witty as Mr. Peanut.
Curt Chapkowski, Junior Copywriter at Leo Burnett, believes it’s Mr. Peanut’s accessories that give this brand icon his debonair edge, “Though Mr. Peanut was originally drawn without his signature top hat, cane, monocle, and spats, a commercial artist added them soon after the dapper gentleman peanut became the official Planters mascot. His getup was inspired by 1800s men’s fashion, but considering his style and class still turn heads a century later, one could make the case that there’s no icon more deserving of the ‘Most Stylish’ title.”
Having already earned his spot on Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame in 2004, we think it’s high time to award the long-overdue Mr. Peanut with his own special menswear feature in the next issue of Vogue.
1. The Most Interesting Man in the World
We don’t always make “the most stylish brand icons” listicles, but when we do we have to put The Most Interesting Man in the World from Dos Equis in first place.
As a spokesperson, The Most Interesting Man in the World is cultured, sharply dressed, and an enigma with a larger than life narrative. Even in his recently retired state (going to Mars, no less), he has left behind a legacy unlike that of any beer campaign ever before.
Natalie Kakovitch at Alter Agents Marketing says that he defined what is suave and stylish by being an extraordinary outlier. “While the facts that Dos Equis railed off about him might not stick with you (Superman has pajamas with his logo, He has won a lifetime achievement award… Twice, He’s considered a national treasure in countries he’s never visited, etc.) the air of what they represent do. Consumers are drawn to him because they want to know him or be more like him. As a mascot he plays into this desire with his memorable sign off of ‘Stay thirsty my friends.’”
Don’t agree with our list? Vote for your most stylish icon below! Did we forget one of your favorite stylish brand icons? Comment below with your favorite and tell us why they deserve an honorable mention!