We’re all susceptible to their lure. They infiltrate our subconsciousness, colonize our homes, and supply us with everything from food to footwear, and in return we become loyal devotees. Such is the power of hundreds, even thousands, of advertising characters that help brands cultivate images of wholesome goodness—the Pillsbury Doughboy, Jolly Green Giant, Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, and Charlie the Tuna.
These usually adorable, often anthropomorphic product proxies are nonetheless subversive. And those who believe themselves insulated from their power should pick up Warren Dotz and Masud Husain’s Meet Mr. Product: The Graphic Art of the Advertising Character Volumes 1 and 2 (Insight Editions), the latter installment of which was released in April. The books are based on a collection of logos, packaging, and brand spokescharacters the authors acquired over the course of 30 years.
Documenting advertising history and creating an exhibition isn’t Dotz’s primary job—he’s a dermatologist. But both he and his co-author Husain, a graphic designer, shared similar interests in collecting and in exploring the under-appreciated “art of commerce.” For Dotz, advertising characters are fascinating to study because they lie at the intersection of business, design, and the modern mythology of pop culture. Characters, Dotz figured, are not hard-sell pitchmen; they appeal to people through warm or funny mnemonics.