Thursday, February 14, 2008

One more Bear for the road

We're a long way from the heyday of what adman Leo Burnett called "critters," the cartoon animals and imps that advertised not just cereals, but all manner of packaged goods and cleaning products.  It's all too common for creative people today to sneer at such populist tactics, even as they wear tee shirts and caps emblazoned with the animated pitchmen they fondly remember from their childhoods.  Yet as more longtime advertisers try to leverage the heritage of their brands and reconnect with consumers, we're seeing a bit of a resurgence in the use of these characters. 

One popular critter, unfortunately, who'll probably never return to active employment is the Hamm's Bear.  Created in 1952 by Minneapolis' Campbell-Mithun agency, the Bear had a nearly 30-year run (despite being sidelined for most of the 1970s) as the marketing mascot of the Midwestern Brewery.  The lovable, bumbling Bear, along with the beer's memorable tom-tom driven jingle and "From The Land  Of Sky Blue Waters" themeline worked together seamlessly to promote the beer; in fact, Advertising Age would rank Hamm's 75th on it's list of the Top 100 Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century.  Alas, by the early '90s, changing ad agencies, a changing market, and a fear that the animated character would be viewed as advertising beer to children put the bear into permanent hibernation.

Commercial artist (and my father-in-law), Bill Stein, spent a good part of his career sharing the illustration duties on the Hamm's Bear for ads, posters and other printed materials.  Although he wasn't the Bear's originator, he's illustrated the cartoon bruin more often than any other artist, putting him in all manner of North Woods settings and humorous situations.  In fact, when a granite monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hamm's campaign was created and placed near the historic Hamm Building in St. Paul, Minnesota,  Bill both designed and illustrated it.  Along with his recent designs for other Bear memorabilia for the Hamm's Club, Bill has played a big role in keeping the Bear alive, even if it's only as part of Minnesota and advertising history.  

For anyone who's unfamiliar with the Hamm's campaign, this vintage commercial sums it up its appeal pretty nicely:

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At May 2, 2008 at 6:34 PM , Anonymous PZR said...

He is, indeed, a beauty.

My husband, a Chicago native, former art director and son of an adman, grew up with a Hamm's cardboard cut-out in his basement. I only learned this after showing him your post -- which, of course, he loved, too.


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