In the week following Easter we examine the use of bunnies as iconic figures for mind-control (err, advertising).
A quick note on the history of the Easter Bunny. Some scholars believe the character is a product of 13th-century Germany where the goddess of spring,Eostre, was depicted as a beautiful maiden carrying a basket of eggs and two baby rabbits.
In the US, the Easter Bunny first arrived sometime in the 18th-century, most likely imported by Germans settling in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. A short time later, our 19th President, Rutherford B. Hayes, had the first Easter Egg Roll at the White House.
Since that time, bunnies have become not only an icon of Easter, but throughout advertising. Let’s move beyond the obvious Cadbury’s and review a quick list of the more famous Lagomorpha-focused ads.
Bugs Bunny, who was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, NY under Ebbets Field to loving parents (artists) Tex Avery and Robert McKimson. Mel Blanc, the character’s original voice, hailed from Flatbush. Some people question Bugs’ origin and believe he dated back to 1938, but this we know: Bugs became a star of the small and silver screens. His fame and witty satire was mimicked by Groucho Marx (or was it the other way around?). Bugs was only a teenager when his fame built quickly, threatening to de-throne Peter CottonTail to reign supreme over the marketing value of bunnies worldwide.
Bugs, known to his closest friends as “Bugs,” was brought from central casting to character roles in his promotions for astronaut-drink Tang in the 1950’s and then for Kool-Aid in the 1960’s.
Hugh Heffner, speaking frankly about his on-again-off-again friendship with Bugs, reported that during the 1970’s and 1980’s Bugs began a slide into depression fueled with carrot-abuse and chasing tail around the Playboy grotto.
Close confidants, Donald Duck and Elmer Fudd, began a campaign to help Bugs sober-up, including featuring Bugs in the 1990 drug prevention video “Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue”. Unfortunately, the efforts weren’t successful and in the following year Bugs was featured in the short film “(Blooper) Bunny” forcing him off the A-list.
Yet the resilient rabbit bounced back. Just a few years later Bugs was on stage again, co-starring with Michael Jordon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2URMB4NGbo8&feature=related for Nike and receiving honors including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on a U.S. postage stamp.
The harsh reality of bunny notoriety wasn’t unique to Bugs. During 70s and 80s, two decades marked by Walkman’s playing Hall & Oates and cocaine abuse, the witty appeal of bunnies morphed into a cold war over energy. In 1973 the Duracell Bunny emerged, threatening rival Energizer Bunny in a court battle over US breeding grounds. After 15 years, Energizer prevailed and in 1988 launched their pink long-eared bass-drum beating vermin proving that nothing could keep them from going and going and going..least of all a copper-top.
The efforts of these three famous bunnies paved the way for more to come, running campaigns for the likes of Stabilo Highlighter, Nestle Quick, Canon EOS Lenses, PeTA (featuring the nude Charlotte Ross of NYPD Blue fame), Colgate Toothpaste, Nikon Coolpix L1, and NY Lottery http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF6PyIML0hI.
With perhaps what could be considered the bunny climax, Durex ran a TV spot in France (2008) that put to rest any doubt over the lingering virility of bunny marketing: (NSFW): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqjiny-xa4
Maybe John Steinbeck knew something about the power of the bunny: can we blame Lenny for the simple dream of raising and stroking soft little rabbits?
Isn’t this a dream we all share?