Monday, August 12, 2002

Happy Birthday to Media Dieticians VII
It was celebrated quietly, but Maytag's Ol' Lonely, the Maytag repairman and advertising icon, turned 35 at the end of July. The first Maytag repairman commercial aired during the "Today" show in 1967, and Ol' Lonely, as played by Jesse White and Gordon Jump, has -- according to Maytag -- become the longest-running real-life advertising character in TV history. "The character is known and cherished by millions as the symbol of dependability and icon of loneliness," says a Maytag news release announcing the anniversary. Huh. If you're dependable, prepare to be lonely, people!

Ol' Lonely takes the cake!

Ol' Lonely was inspired by letters Maytag received from customers who wrote about the dependability of their washing machines and other products. (And, perhaps, leagues of underemployed appliance repairmen.) Leo Burnett Co. launched the "Dependability" campaign in 1961, highlighting real Maytag customers singing the praises of Maytag. This campaign sparked even more letters from customers. In Canada, Maytag produced a radio call-in show during which listeners could seek advice from an appliance repairman. This spilled over to television advertisements, with Jesse White starring as Ol' Lonely, the Maytag repairman.

Since Ol' Lonely's debut, he's been joined by a sad-faced bassett hound named Newton and -- after Jesse's 1989 retirement and replacement by Gordon Jump -- an apprentice. Ol' Lonely continues to wait for the phone to ring, but the apprentice spends his time learning more about Maytag's innovations.

While I'd challenge that Ol' Lonely is the longest-running real-life advertising character in history -- Dick Wilson played Mr. Whipple in Charmin adverts from 1964-1990 (36 years by my count) -- I'd like to encourage Media Dieticians the world over to pick up their phones, call Ol' Lonely, and wish him one heck of an anniversary. (Maybe even kick in your washing machine so there's something for him to fix, too.)

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