Mr. Peanut taken captive!

The inestimable Stuart Elliott did a recent article on the rebranding of Mr. Peanut. (NYT March 19, 2004)

He quotes Sandy Greenberg, an executive vice president and group creative director on Planters at Foote Cone Belding, the advertising agency in New York City. “It [the new campaign] started with a strategy shift to focus on the fact that all the occasions of your life, large and small, are worthy of Planters.”

I’m sorry, I thought you said occasions of my life might be worthy of Planters. Really, I can’t possibly begin to say what an honor this is.

That parts of my life might be worthy of Mr. Peanut, this is, by itself, well a little overwhelming. That all of the occasions of my life should be worth of Mr. Peanut, it is really too much too hope for. Surely I can expect a promotion, renewed respect from my family, the adoration of my neighbors. And surely this is just the beginning of a climb up the ladder of recognition: Cannes, the Golden Globe, an Oscar. “I’d like to begin by thanking the Academy…”

In the last few years, PR and advertising have drawn together. The new conventional wisdom is that, with advertising saturation and new consumer vigilence, it is a good thing when a product or a brand can find mention in a conventional news story.

This may well be true. But what damage does the brand suffer when the brand stewart is revealed to be an idiot? Poor Mr. Peanut. He was designed by a Virginia school boy in 1916. He is, in the words of David Altschul, president of Character in Portland, Oregon, “a toff in the body of a peanut.” He is, in sum, a toff twice captured, once by caricature and again by stupidity.

In a perfect world, there would be a team of “operatives” who specialized in “brand extraction,” busting in to save brave little icons from the captivity of bad marketing and marketers. Well, I guess there is such a team. It’s called another “advertising agency.” And one must wonder what Weiden Kennedy would have done with this opportunity.

In the meantime, let us remember Mr. Peanut in our prayers.