Friday, July 3, 2009

"Don't leave home..."

It's been an eventful week for advertising spokesfigures. Earlier in the week, well-known pitchman Billy Mays passed away. Smokey the Bear celebrated his 65th birthday this week. And, this past Wednesday, acclaimed actor Karl Malden died at age 97.

Malden had starring roles in major movies like Patton, On the Waterfront and How the West Was Won. He was also well-known as Lt. Mike Stone in the TV series Streets of San Francisco where he starred alongside a young Michael Douglas. But, it was his uttering one of the best-known advertising lines ever, "Don't leave home without them," which gained Malden significant, consistent screen-time.

The phrase, of course, was on behalf of American Express Travelers Cheques. Malden served as on-screen talent for AMEX during the 1970's and 1980's in a campaign which spanned 25 years and became one of the best-known in advertising history. As with all good, long-running advertising, it became a pop culture phrase--Malden's involvement was mimicked by comedians, including a well-known bit by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and was used by the children's show, Sesame Street.

The American Express campaign was devised by Ogilvy and Mather and legendary ad man, David Ogilvy. While perhaps not the first famous spokesperson on behalf of a brand, Malden's success set the stage for many others who would follow on behalf of American Express, including Jerry Seinfeld, Kate Winslet, Robert DeNiro, Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, Tiger Woods and Martin Scorcese.

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