I can’t claim to know everything about corporate mascots but I do have some intimate knowledge of at least one of the most famous among them. You see, for five hours one day I was Grimace. He was a strange creature, and of indeterminate species to be sure, yet he was lovable and happy all the same. The time I spent sweating inside soaked my $45 Glass Tiger concert T-shirt so badly the colours ran beyond all recognition, but I persevered, knowing that I stood for something bigger than myself. Something important. Something that would get $40 bucks added to my paycheque at the time.

While I can’t explain exactly what a mascot brings to a firm in a specific sense I do know their presence is generally used in providing a “living” example of the beliefs the company holds true. From this, the opportunity to trigger fond memories or simply give the kids something to amuse themselves with is gravy. I say this knowing that some of the newer mascots cruising around these days could just as easily have been recruited from the smoke pit of a twelve step program as created by professional marketers. And I would also have to say that the current Burger King mascot jumps to mind immediately as an example of this. If this psycho was skulking around a schoolyard I would be more than obligated to call the police.

Burger King used to have a more McDonald’s-like cast of characters that lived in their own land and ran around playing games and eating BK food. That disappeared over the years as they went all urban hip and cool, until one day the “King” retuned – only this time as a shiny, glassy-eyed plastic freak head that makes you question his sanity. The thousand mile stare is just plain bizarre but I’d be lying if I said his ads didn’t intrigue me in the strangest of ways. They’re like a car accident, I just can’t look away.

The big ones, like Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald have almost transcended mere hucksterism. Sure they worked the crowds selling product back in the day but now they concentrate on fitness, or charity or other “feel-good” initiatives of their respective companies. I know in Ronald’s case I’ll get some argument from the “McDonald’s is evil incarnate” crowd but in truth I’ve felt more threatened having to give out my phone number to buy batteries at Radio Shack than by anything McDonald’s has ever done to me.

Of the current crop of working mascots my personal favourite is Jack from Jack in the Box. He’s brilliant. I never once expected to see Ronald McDonald making fries or working in the office at corporate but I swear some part of me half believes a giant headed Jack is holding boardroom meetings in San Diego and playing golf with suppliers on the weekends. The ads have built him up perfectly. He runs the company, is dedicated to selling me delicious food, and will never make any apologies for doing so. He’s as plausible a corporate leader as the late Orville Redenbacher was (and after seeing the new CGI/human amalgam of the poor man running in their new TV ads I’d say Jack has taken the lead.)

Getting a mascot seems easy enough. Draw a picture and then scissor out a foam suit. It’s the personality that’s tough. Look at Taco Time and their lame talking cactus or Little Caesar’s uh, little Caesar. It always kind of bothered me that he never said anything other than “Pizza Pizza.” It was like the company saw some crazy guy running up and down the sidewalk one day, grabbed him, strapped on a sandwich board and released him only after ensuring he could repeat “pizza, pizza” over and over. Whether or not he might get hit by a car was a risk they were wiling to take.

Colonel Sanders sort of became a mascot even though he was a real person at one time. They had Randy Quaid voice a cartoon version of him that was supposed to be “more street and edgy” than the original man. I’ve read that the real Colonel Sanders hired his mistress to keep house for him and his wife. You don’t get more street or edgy than that.

The Listerine Man is painted as a full-on lunatic suffering delusions of being an actual superhero and trying to take on a slacker toothbrush as a sidekick.  Ethanol’s Corn Cob Bob became a flashpoint of controversy and was actually banned from a parade due to his politics. The Fruit of the Loom guys seem to live inside men’s underwear, which these days would seem to give them a political bent all their own.

Actually, the working mascots out there seem to represent a pretty clear cross-section of society through their various looks and personalities. It’s as if these companies held up a very large mirror to all of us, reflecting back a wonderful picture of our inherent diversity and contrast.

And I don’t know if this should make us proud or very, very afraid.

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