In the world of television advertising, life is a pitch -- and the viewer is the victim. Any list of the most obnoxious commercial spokesfolks of the past decades would surely include the following:
Toilet paper was practically portrayed as an entry level drug for crack cocaine in the commercials for Charmin "bathroom tissue" that starred the late Dick Wilson as fretful George Whipple, a grocery store manager who stalked his customers and urged them, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin," before succumbing to the evil impulse himself. (True to toilet paper commercial tradition, the actual purpose of the product went unmentioned.) Whipple is often cited as the most loathed TV pitchman, but he must have moved a whole lot of Charmin -- the character appeared in more than 500 ads between 1964 and 1985.
The Frito Bandito
In 1967, advertisers for Fritos Corn Chips came up with a unique way to sell the famous dip scooper-upper: racism. The mustachioed and sombreroed Frito Bandito was the animated embodiment of Mexican stereotypes, right down to the sing-song accent provided by voice-over legend Mel Blanc. Disapproval from Latino groups was swift, loud and ultimately effective -- the Bandito disappeared a scant four years after his debut.
In the mid-'80s, the scenic Ms. LeBrock appeared in TV spots for Pantene shampoo, waving her well-coiffed mane and imploring viewers, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" -- an idea that surely hadn't occurred to anyone until she appeared in this commercial. Who knew there was such a thin line between sexy and obnoxious? But the widely ridiculed slogan has gone on to have a life of its own. LeBrock's reading of it was sampled by Weird Al Yankovic in his 1992 novelty number "I Can't Watch This" and the words surfaced in the 2010 R&B hit "Pretty Girl Rock."
In the latter years of the last decade, it was virtually impossible to turn on your TV and not see the burly, bearded Billy Mays hawking some product or other, from Awesome Auger to Zorbeez, with stops at Oxi-Clean and Mighty Putty. But whatever he was shilling, Mays always promoted the product IN A LOUD HIGH-PITCHED DRONE that suggested yet another use for Mighty Putty -- stuffing your ears with it so you wouldn't have to hear Billy Mays.
The Aflac Duck
The mega-irritating mallard has been quacking the name of its namesake insurance company since 1999, earning a place on Madison Avenue's Walk of Fame. For most of its reign, the Aflac Duck's squawk was provided by the chalk-on-blackboard voice of comic Gilbert Gottfried. But after Gottfried posted some tasteless tweets about post-tsunami Japan, he was replaced by Daniel McKeague. Now the duck not only quacks, but it sings, it break dances and tests the idea that ANYTHING that makes you remember the product is good advertising. Of course, compared to that squealing Geico pig, the Aflac duck sounds like Adele. And speaking of Geico...
The Geico Cavemen
Though actors Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ben Weber, John Lehr and Ben Wilson were entertaining as metrosexual Stone Agers, the premise of this series of ads was not. We were supposed to be amused by the idea of cavemen complaining about the way they were portrayed in a Geico commercial -- the way, say, the Mexican-Americans were offended by the Frito Bandito. 'Cause, you know, the only thing funnier than mocking minorities is mocking them for protesting when you mock them. The cavemen even starred in a blink-and-you-missed-it sitcom. If some genius does this with the Aflac duck, I'm restricting my viewing to The Weather Channel.
It is universally acknowledged -- even by his creators -- that the King of Burger King was downright creepy. Dressed in royal robes and sporting an immobile plastic face forever frozen in a very unreassuring smile, the eerily silent King was as warm and cuddly as the masked terrorist in V for Vendetta. How this was supposed to make us want to rush out and wolf down a Whopper was never quite clear -- and last year the King AND the ad agency behind him were both deposed in a bloodless coup.
The Colon Lady
Back in the day, commercials about the grosser bodily functions would genteelly talk around the topic (see Charmin above). Today, the preferred approach is to never shut up about it. Enter Marge Royce, AKA Colon Lady, the amazingly annoying pitchwoman for Phillips' Colon Health who talks about the nastiest things with total strangers at airports, bookstores and yes, even weddings. Which raises the obvious question: What does she have left to talk about when she goes to the powder room?
What TV commercial spokespeople make you instantly reach for the remote?