Commercials are filled with characters that companies have created to help consumers remember their brand and desire their product or service. Sometimes they turn to the make-believe (think: the Pillsbury Dough Boy or Geico's Gecko), but often they hire real people to play the role. When the marketing gods smile on them, they strike gold and their advertising pursuits create a cultural icon.
Here, WalletPop shares its list of our favorite advertising icons of all-time. These 10 people did more than just take on the role of company mascot. They went on to become synonymous with the brands they pitched.
1. Mr. Whipple
"Please don't squeeze the Charmin."
Charmin toilet paper hired Dick Wilson to play the role of store manager, Mr. Whipple, in over 500 Charmin toilet paper television commercials from 1965 to 1989, and again in 1999. While this was what Wilson was known for, he also appeared in multiple films up until the 1980s. Nevertheless, he will always be remembered as secretly squeezing the Charmin.
2. The Marlboro Man
The original Marlboro Man, John Bryant, has been seen in a number of Marlboro cigarette TV commercials and print ads since the 1950s. The Marlboro TV commercials were discontinued when tobacco advertisements were legislated off the air in the 1970s. Bryant went on to play Dr. Robert Spaulding on the TV western, 'The Virginian.' He also recorded books for the blind and appeared in a few other movies.
3. The Maytag Repairman
"The loneliest man in town"
In 1967, the Maytag Company hired Jesse White to portray the lonely Maytag Repairman, symbolizing the reliability of Maytag products and thus the lack of repair calls. Even though he was semi-retired during his time with Maytag, White appeared in a dozen movies after this, his last film being "Matinee" in 1993. White died in 1997 at the age of 78 from cardiac arrest.
4. Rosie the Waitress
"It's the quicker picker upper."
Nancy Walker played "Rosie," who mopped countertops with the "quicker picker upper" in a series of commercials for Bounty paper towels between 1970 and 1990. The 4-foot 11-inch actress was also seen in a few sitcoms and played the role of "Aunt Angela" on The Golden Girls for which she received an Emmy Award nomination. She died in 1992 at the age of 69.
5. Madge the Manicurist
"You're soaking in it."
This slogan was famously stated by Jan Miner, an actress who played Madge the Manicurist in the Colgate-Palmolive Company commercials. Madge worked in the Salon East Beauty Parlor, where she pre-soaked all her customers' fingernails in Palmolive's green dish washing detergent. She played this role for 27 years, one of the longest ongoing product endorsement relationships in TV history. She died in 2004.
6. The 'Where's the Beef' Lady
"Where's the beef?"
This campaign for Wendy's fast-food restaurants starred an 81-year-old played by Clara Peller who was used to highlight Wendy's massive amounts of meat in their burgers. By 1985, Peller was fired from Wendy's after declaring that she had "found the beef" in an advertisement for Prego Plus spaghetti sauce. She then made a few guest appearances on television shows, but died at the age of 85 in 1987.
7. Life Cereal's Mikey
"He likes it. Hey, Mikey!"
From 1971 to 1987, Life cereal ran an ad starring three young brothers, the most famous of which was Mikey, played by John Gilchrist, who portrayed the usually-picky eater as loving Life cereal. Gilchrist also appeared in more than 250 commercials for such products as Pepto Bismol, Skippy peanut butter, and Jell-O. Today, contrary to the popular rumor that he died from a diet of Pop Rocks and Coke, he works as a radio advertising executive.
8. Ernest P. Worrell
Jim Varney was the man who played the infamous Ernest P. Worrell in commercials from 1980 to 1995. Though Ernest was used in various local campaigns and was never a spokesman for one national product or company, the character proved so popular that it was spun off into a TV series, 'Hey Vern, It's Ernest!' as well as a series of movies in the 1980s and 1990s. Varney did a few cartoon voice-overs, appeared in a few films, but by 2000, passed away from lung cancer.
9. Joe Isuzu
From 1986 to 1990, and 1999 to 2001, actor David Leisure played Joe Isuzu, the fictional spokesman for Isuzu. Following his Isuzu days, Leisure has been seen in sitcoms such as 'Sabrina, the Teenage Witch' and 'Married With Children,' and has acted as an insurance lawyer in commercials for many American personal-injury law firms. He also enjoys spending "leisure" time on the golf course.
10. Josephine the Plumber
Jane Withers was the spokesperson for Comet Cleanser throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She played Josephine the plumber, clad in white worker overalls and gave advice on the best way to get stubborn stains from sinks and tubs -- recommending Comet Cleanser, of course. As of 2002, Jane, a widow, lived in Northridge, Calif. with her world-class collection of dolls that she hopes one day to place in a museum for all the world to see.
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