The life of an advertising mascot actor can be pretty cushy; as it was for Maytag’s first repairman, Jesse White. He held the role for more than 20 years and the gig paid for a house among movie stars in Westwood, Calif. and a condo in Maui. But any long-running spokesperson is bound to go through some changes.
Here are some of the actors who have embodied well-known mascots -- and been replaced.
Chuck E. Cheese
This kind of actor change is not always handled smoothly. In 2012, after 19 years of speaking for the restaurant chain’s cheerful rodent, voice actor Duncan Brannan learned he had lost the job when he saw a new campaign online.
The restaurant’s parent company, CEC Entertainment Inc., was looking to update the cartoon mascot with a more rock and roll image. It hired Jaret Reddick, singer of the rock band Bowling for Soup, to voice Chuck E. and to sing in his “hot new single.”
Geoffrey the Giraffe
The Toys"R"Us mascot was first seen in print ads in the 1950s for its earlier incarnation, Children’s Bargaintown. At the time, he was known by the more prestigious title, Dr. G. Raffe.
In 1965 with the retailer’s name change, the mascot was redrawn and named Geoffrey. Other artists’ renderings followed over the years as his image was tweaked. But a major change came in 2001, when the company changed him from a cartoon to a more realistic animal; an animatronic giraffe was built and voiced by actor Tom Hanks’ brother, Jim Hanks.
In 2007, looking to send a message that “we’re new again!” Geoffrey went back to being a cartoon.
The debonair legume was a silent mascot for more than 90 years. But in 2010, as Kraft Foods attempted to update the image of the Planters brand it owns, it hired actor Robert Downey Jr. to give him a voice.
A new animated commercial was posted first on Facebook, before running on television. It gave his shell a more realistic, browner hue, rather than his usual bright yellow, and dressed him in a new suit. Last year, comedian Bill Hader lent his voice to the peanut in another new commercial.
The first television ad to feature the fast food chain’s clown mascot aired in 1963. That proto-Ronald was played by Willard Scott (one of the many actors to portray Bozo the Clown -- Mr. Scott had done so on a local station in Washington D.C.) He was fantastically creepy, with a paper cup for a nose, a manic jig, and glaring eyes.
In 1966, McDonald’s decided to make Ronald its national spokesperson. The company hired Michael Polakovs, a Barnum & Bailey Circus clown known as Coco, to play Ronald in television commercials. Mr. Polakovs also acted as clown consultant, working with costume maker Max Weldy to help create the foundation for the Ronald image we know today -- his makeup, the yellow suit, big red shoes, and striped socks.
Over the years, a number of actors have played Ronald, including Ray Rayner, King Moody, Squire Fridell, and Jack Depke.
Sometimes, a brand refresh prompts the change to a mascot actor; and sometimes it’s a decision borne out of scandal. In 2011, following the deadly earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, comedian Gilbert Gottfried posted messages on Twitter making light of the incident.
Aflac Inc. responded by firing Mr. Gottfried from his role as the voice of its duck mascot. After a nationwide search that included more than 12,500 auditions (both in-person and via the Web) the company chose Daniel McKeague to take on the role.