By Heather Taylor
Value menus, drive-thrus, and the ability to say “supersize it” on everything from French fries to sodas. It’s no secret that fast food has left a lasting impact on our culture, both within our lexicon and the food itself, which has long been advertised by a motley crew of colorful characters. But which mascots are beloved by the mad men and women, anyway? From cows that can’t spell to silent kings, we’ve gathered together members of the advertising community to share their thoughts about their favorite faces in fast food.
Jack In The Box
He’s made our list as one of industry’s most stylish mascots and Jack’s signature look, coupled with his bold attitude and relatable personality, makes him a slam dunk favorite with just about everyone in advertising.
“Jack is one of the true challenger brands, unafraid to march to his own beat,” says David Angelo, Founder and Chairman at David&Goliath. While he admits that he might be a bit biased because his agency works for the “ruler of the fast food world,” everyone can relate to Jack’s challenger spirit. For 23 years, Jack (and his oversized ping pong-shaped head) has made his authentic voice heard and the world loves what he has to say.
Even though he’s a CEO, Jack’s not afraid to get his hands dirty — and it’s a trait that Leslie Diard, Communications Planning Director at Duncan Channon admires. “He’s loveable, with an everyday sort of casualness.” However, Jack’s commitment to his products has led to the mascot making a few bumbles. Diard recalls a traumatizing Super Bowl 43 spot where Jack was pitching all-day breakfast and was suddenly hit by a bus, “It was like your best buddy was down!”
Thankfully, Jack made a full recovery and his all-day breakfast pitch, better known as “Brunchfast,” is now a Jack in the Box menu staple.
When Wieden+Kennedy brought back the iconic Colonel Harland Sanders in 2015, he was reinvented for a millennial audience through a string of comedians and actors including Jim Gaffigan, Norm Macdonald, and Rob Riggle, just to name a few (and we do mean just a few — the list of Colonels is constantly growing!).
One of his biggest fans is Joe Baratelli, EVP and Chief Creative Officer at RPA, who thinks the use of celebrity has been a brilliant decision for the brand. “They’ve done a wonderful job making KFC fun again. The Colonel is attention-grabbing, relevant and present in social media, aligned with cultural events, and able to introduce new products with ease.”
Nothing makes Chelsea Ford, Account Supervisor at EVINS Communications, happier than seeing little redheaded, pigtailed, freckle-faced Wendy. The namesake for Wendy’s fast food restaurants owned by her father Dave Thomas, the real-life Melinda Lou “Wendy” Morse also inspired the likeness of the Wendy’s logo. In 2012, that logo was redesigned using brighter reds and blues, softer typography, and giving Wendy pigtails that popped out of her logo’s frame. At the time, it was her first redesign since 1983.
The Taco Bell Chihuahua
“¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!" You’d be hard-pressed to meet a ‘90s food mascot, or catchphrase, as influential as the Taco Bell Chihuahua and Allan Johnson, Brand Strategy Director at Duncan Channon, would agree with you.
In the 1990s campaign created by TBWA/Chiat/Day for Taco Bell, a plucky pup professes loyalty to the fast food chain’s tacos, Chalupas, and Gorditas. As burger restaurants waged the infamous “burger wars,” Taco Bell’s offerings and spokespup stood out from the crowd while simultaneously drawing the crowd towards them. (Because who doesn’t want Taco Bell?) Voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, the Taco Bell Chihuahua’s real name was actually Gidget who would later make a guest appearance in a 2002 GEICO commercial spot with another icon — the Gecko.
Spelling may not be the forte of the Chick-fil-A Cows, but you gotta hand it to these renegades. They’re pretty devoted to getting fans to “eat mor chikin.”
“I’ve always appreciated the amusingly illiterate hijinks of the Chick-fil-A cows,” notes Damian Fraticelli, Creative Director at High Wide & Handsome, “In addition to the lo-fi sincerity of the campaign, I’ve always admired the brand's dogged dedication to the spectacular billboard.”
That spectacular billboard was the same one where “EAT MOR CHIKIN” was scrawled in a 1995 campaign created by The Richards Group. The cows replaced Doodles, the anthropomorphized chicken that appears as the ‘C’ on the company logo, and courageously switched up the burger landscape by insisting Chick-fil-A lovers make the switch from beef to chicken.
In 1937, Glendale, California was the home to Bob’s Pantry, a hamburger stand owned by Bob Wian. A customer’s request for a new type of burger resulted in Wian creating the first double-decker hamburger. An instant hit with customers, perhaps no customer loved the burger more than a chubby six-year-old boy in overalls. He was such a fan of the burger that he swept Bob’s floors in return for freebies. Wian named his double-decker the “Big Boy” as a tribute to the burger’s biggest fan. Meanwhile, a movie animator (and customer) sketched what would be the restaurant’s character on a napkin. It was a little boy with mischievous blue eyes and checkered overalls. And that’s how it all began for the original Bob’s Big Boy from Big Boy Restaurants.
“Who doesn’t love a chubby little kid with his name on his shirt, eager to serve you up a burger?” gushes Anne Elisco-Lemme, Executive Creative Director at Duncan Channon, “Big Boy is just a funny name any way you slice it. Its simplicity is brilliant.”
And it’s that same simplicity — both in the mascot’s name and burger offerings — that have given the brand its staying power for 78 years.
When a king speaks, everyone listens. However, they’re still listening because The Burger King mascot has yet to actually speak out loud.
This silent, eccentric character from the Burger King restaurant chain is a favorite of Dan Gross, Executive Creative Director, DNA Seattle, and J. Barbush, VP/Creative Director of Social Media at RPA especially during the mascot’s reign with ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
“They call him ‘The King’ for a reason. He transcended advertising and became a part of pop culture. That’s the bar for any mascot. He was this oddball lurker who showed up in strange places making people uncomfortable. That tact flies in the face of how a mascot is supposed to behave, all chipper and wholesome.” J. Barbush says.
However, The King did reveal in 2016 that he could speak — in sign language. The commercial spot from DAVID The Agency showcased The King’s ASL fluency to honor the 199th anniversary of National American Sign Language Day on April 15.
Before he joined the ad industry, Patrick Scullin worked as an advance man for a circus. While he was there, he discovered that many children were afraid of clowns and would cry in their presence. Scullin later joined the team at Leo Burnett where he worked on the McDonald’s account, anchored by its golden arches and famous mascot Ronald McDonald.
While Scullin never worked on Ronald specifically, it was a total 180 from what he was used to — children ran to Ronald and never away from him. “Ronald is a guy in greasepaint who makes kids hungry for Happy Meals. He protects the world from evil threats like the Hamburglar, and feeds everyone with delicious fries, burgers, and Coca-Colas.” Scullin, now the ECD at Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising, recalls.
In that sense, Ronald has always been larger than life in the world of fast food mascots. For decades, “the world’s silliest and hamburger-eatingest clown” has been making kids and adults of all ages smile as an icon of the global restaurant chain. There’s nobody quite like him — and there may never be either. As Scullin puts it, “Ronald McDonald is as American as Uncle Sam, and it would be impossible to find someone to fill his size-38 clown shoes.”