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The New Golden Age Of Advertising Icons

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As Advertising Week kicks off, it inspires me to think how I got into this crazy business.

The AdGods hooked me young. In fact, some of my fondest, earliest memories are actually advertising icons. Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant and oh, yes, that rascally rogue the Hamburgler. Throw in "Hey, Kool-Aid" and Quisp and well, there you have it, a well-populated memory lane.

It was truly a Golden Age.

Recently, it struck me that we are in a Second Golden Age of Advertising Icons. Think about it. There's Mayhem from Allstate, Dos Equis' World's Most Interesting Man, the Geico Gecko, the E-Trade Baby and a few from my network (the Energizer Bunny, the Michelin Man, Jimmy Dean's The Sun and Principal Financial Group's Eddie to name a few).

And unlike the one-dimensional characters of my youth -- ask Tony the Tiger anything and he'd respond the same way, "They're Grrrreat!" -- today's icons are as complex and engaging as the brands they represent and the society we live in.

My three modern favorites are Allstate's Mayhem. Dos Equis' World's Most Interesting Man. And the Gecko from Geico.

What makes these icons and any icon campaign successful is that the characters themselves are likeable, branded and worthy of repeated views. There's an episodic nature that doesn't become tiresome, but on the contrary makes you want to see more. And with so many creative
opportunities in digital and social media now, these characters can really connect with the audience.

Allstate's Mayhem is simply genius. As an idea I love using a character to personify all that can go wrong and why you need to be in "good hands." Brilliantly cast and acted by Dean Winters (Oz, Rescue Me and Dennis the Rat King on 30 Rock), My favorite in the campaign is "Mayhem GPS," where we find Mayhem hilariously perched in a driver's dashboard.

My other favorite modern ad icon is Dos Equis' World's Most Interesting Man. (MIM, for short. ) Forget that he is the most interesting and intelligent icon in a category littered with endless and mindless "dude" jokes and gags, MIM is simply one the most interesting characters on TV period.

A cross-between Hemingway, James Bond and a hint of Charles Bukowski, MIM oozes charm and dispenses wisdom.

His philosophy is "To stay thirsty." And his life comes to us in the form of home-movie adventures.

It also helps that he's described with some of the best copy we've seen in decades. A recent spot intones:

"He is the life of parties he has never attended."

"When in Rome, they do as he does."

"Both sides of his pillow are cold."

And just to keep things, well, interesting, he doesn't just come out and shill for the Mexican brew. No, he tells us he "doesn't always drink beer," but when he does, he "prefers for Dos Equis."

In this sense, he's a truly modern ad icon. Rather than obviously sell the beer, he simply shares a point of view with the brand. Here's a great compilation of the campaign:

The final great ad icon in our current Golden Age is the Gecko.

Sure, his name comes from a mispronunciation of his brand, Geico, but other than that very little about him is a logical extension of the insurance giant. Yet it's this illogic that has made the Gecko so incredibly effective and sticky.

Gecko (of the non-Gordon variety) speaks the mantra of the brand - saving you money on car insurance. But unexpectedly he's got a dodgey Australian accent. (Or is it North London?) Odd considering Geico is a truly American, Warren-Buffet owned company. Take a few steps more. The Gecko is a gecko. Insurance? Reptile? Huh, wha?

Yet, when you close your eyes and think insurance, a loquacious lizard actually comes to mind. And therein lies the genius. Have a look:

So as we kick off this year's Advertising Week, let us be reminded that we are living in a truly gilded age. That is, for interesting ad icons and talking lizards.