Burger King recently fired its 56-year-old mascot. In one of his most recent commercial beats, the King took the form of a grown man in a costume monarch outfit and smiley mask, waking up in a stranger's bed, and urging him to try a Double Croissan'Wich in a Freddy Kruger drawl.
Some thought it was hip. Others thought it was creepy. Either way, it wasn't too hot for sales.
Other controversial mascots have managed to cling onto their jobs, despite the recession, lawsuits, and decades of protest. Here are the top five:
5. Lady GolfBird
You're probably not acquainted with Lady GolfBird, the multi-colored toucan with the slender black-tipped beak. That's because Toucan Golf Inc., the Ohio-based company that adopted GolfBird as its mascot in 1994, rarely sells its polycarbonate putter heads to the public.
But that didn't stop cereal mogul Kellog from suing the golf equipment manufacturer for trademark infringement in 2001. After all, Toucan Sam, the stout, stripe-billed, British bird, has been advising children to "follow his nose" to Fruit Loops since the 1960s.
Kellogg's claimed Lady Golfbird created a "likelihood of confusion." TGI countered that Toucan Sam's "unique shape, coloring, size and demeanor are ... not reminiscent of anything seen in the wild," while GolfBird actually "resembles a real toucan." Also, one sold sugary rainbow wheat puffs and the other golf clubs.
Kellogg's lost. The two Toucans remain alive and well. But Kellog's has sunk its claws into a new beaked-rival, the mascot of a Mayan culture advocacy group.
4. Ronald McDonald
Corporate Accountability International, the watchdog group responsible for the premature deaths of the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, set its sights on Mr. McDonald in 2009. The campaign gained steam last May, when hundreds of health workers signed an open letter, published in newspapers across the country, asking McDonald's CEO to please fire the restaurant's "Chief Happiness Officer," given the unhappy levels of salt, sugar and calories it its food.
Almost half of Americans agree with CAI. Even so, 65 percent of the country still thinks favorably of the 48-year-old man with the painted grin and yellow jumpsuit. He has so many positive hobbies after all, like singing, dancing, and caring for the sick, in addition to peddling fried food to small children.
3. Colonel Reb
Mississippi University's nickname "Ole Miss" is what slaves used to call slave master's wives. The school's main administrative building, the Lyceum, served as a hospital during the Civil War, and still has the bullet holes from when the school attempted to integrate in 1962. That gives you an idea of the heavy history packed into the 163-year-old institution.
All of this is neatly summed up in the figure of Colonel Reb, a white-bearded antebellum plantation owner, complete with wide brimmed hat and cane. In an effort to overcome its tarnished past, Ole Miss formally retired Colonel Reb in 2003. But the man just wouldn't die. Finally, in fall 2010, the school banned the sale of his image, and voted in the more politically correct mascot of a cuddly black bear.
Having officially lost his title, perhaps Colonel Reb shouldn't be on this list. But the school's sports teams are still called the Rebels, a nickname for the Confederate army that can't help but elicit the old Colonel who helped lead it. They may have buried the Reb, but his ghost lives on.
2. Washington Redskins
For many Redskin fans, the mascot conjures up the team's noble attributes: courage, strength, dedication, perseverance. For many Native Americans, it evokes a stereotype of "blood-thirsty savages ... frozen in history" and the degradation, dehumanization, and mass murder that their people endured at the hands of early European settlers.
For decades, Native Americans have demonstrated at Redskin games. At one, protestors handed fans redskin potatoes, asking that if the team wouldn't change its name, could it at least make its mascot a potato. In 1992, a handful activists took the case to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the Redskins violated the Lanham Act, which states that nothing "disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable" can be trademarked.
1. Aunt Jemima
The original Aunt Jemima was the plump, beaming, wide-eyed "mammy" slave stereotype, inspired by a blackface song and dance number from a 19th century minstrel show. Former slave Nancy Green served as the product's spokesperson, cheerily cooking up flapjacks while telling crowds: "I'se in town, honey."
Mammies have always been good at pushing product, from Aunt Sally's baking powder to Aunt Dinah's molasses. But Aunt Jemima is the only one to endure, despite an NAACP boycott in the early 1960s, and an intensified chorus of protest around Aunt Jemima's birthday in 1989.
Aunt Jemima quickly became one of the best known and loved brands in the country, offering overworked housewives the convenience of a "slave in a box," in the words of author Maurice Manring, who wrote a book about the mascot. And even though her image modernized over the years -- face slimmed down and beautified, the do-rag replaced with natural curls, classy pearl studs popped in her ears -- her name is still used to trash prominent black females, from Oprah to Condeleeza Rice to Michelle Obama.
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