BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The King is dead.
Well, that's not entirely true. But odds are the giant-headed mascot for Burger King may have been overthrown.
Earlier this month, the fast food chain and its ad agency for the past seven years, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, parted ways. That agency created such unusual, viral campaigns as the online Subservient Chicken and the so-called "Creepy King," a rather menacing take on what was once a character meant to appeal to kids.
If BK decides to revamp its King, it won't be the first makeover for the character. Like many of the fantasy-based mascots companies use to promote themselves and specific products, he has evolved over the years.
In recent weeks, there has been considerable chatter about the fate of some other popular mascots and spokes-things as well.
A year after activists started demanding that McDonald's "retire" Ronald McDonald as a response to childhood obesity, it seemed they might get their wish. A report on MSNBC.com paraphrased a McDonald's representative's remarks about the character and gave the impression his use would be scaled back. Not so, the company said when the story gained national traction.
Cap'n Crunch was similarly thought to be on his way out. Rumors claimed that his being synonymous with sugary cereals was no longer a good connection for the Pepsi-owned Quaker Oats and its efforts to appeal to health-conscious consumers. While true the Captain was been in a reduced role, found on cereal boxes but few other places, his return to prominence seems imminent. A Facebook account allows fans to learn more about his return ("I was out on the seas, but don't worry, I'm back and not going anywhere!") and there are "Have You Seen Me" posters fans can print.
Punchy, the "how about a Hawaiian Punch" guy, is also undergoing a redesign, one of many he has had over the years. Over time, his quick-to-comical-violence approach to life has been tempered, his clenched fist turned into a "hang loose" hand gesture. In recent years he is no longer a hyperactive troublemaker, but a laid-back surfer dude.
The website for Hawaiian Punch, now owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, only offers a teaser about his latest reincarnation. While we don't know how the new "Punchy" will look or act, we can guarantee the changes were not taken lightly.
Company mascots are extremely valuable to companies, and many have extensive guidebooks specifying every detail of how they can, and cannot, be rendered or used.
"Brand characters are unique in that they straddle the worlds of marketing and entertainment," is the pitch offered to clients by offered by Character, an Oregon consultant specializing in company brands (Punchy is among the characters for which it has developed guides). "Clearly they exist to represent a brand, but they live in a consumer frame of reference that puts them in competition with characters from television, movies, video games and novels. To be truly effective, brand characters have to combine the best of both worlds. They must be engaging characters in their own right while staying authentically rooted in the brand."
That yellow, green and red rooster? You know immediately Cornelius is hawking Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Mickey Mouse has become so iconic that all Disney needs to do is show his ears to trigger an association. People go online to the Quaker Oats store to buy the hard-to-find Quisp cereal, many driven less by the taste of the cereal than nostalgia for the propeller-headed alien -- so popular among kids of the 1970s that he even had his own line of toys.
Or think of Mr. Peanut, the salty sophisticate in a top hat and monocle that dates back to 1916, the result of a contest Planters held to solicit potential trademark sketches. The winner was a 14-year-old boy; the elegant attire was added later by a professional artist. (Why a monocle? Aside from the air of elegance it provides, it should be pointed out that eyeglasses would be of no use to the debonair legume. He has no ears.)
Planters, owned by Kraft Foods, recently launched the latest version of the character, in stop-motion animation ads with Robert Downey Jr. handling the voice work.
The following are the stories behind some of the most popular and enduring company and product mascots: