Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?





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Insects Creep into Mass Media Marketing

We're all exposed to mass media marketing everyday. Radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, billboards and pop-ups on Internet sites. Everywhere you look and listen you are likely to be bombarded with advertisements for a product or service that you can't live without. Or, at least, that is what the advertisers want you to think.

To be successful, mass-media advertising must get us to read or listen to the message. To do this, marketing specialists employ catchy tunes or phrases to attract our attention. Well-known entertainers, sports stars, political figures or relatives of any of the above are paid tidy sums of money to tout the value of every imaginable gizmo, gadget or service.

Even animals have successfully hawked products or services, compliments of mass-media ad campaigns. One of the first, Elsie the Cow, began representing Borden's Dairy products in 1940. Other animals pitching products since then include a camel for cigarettes, a bunny for Energizer batteries, an elk for Hartford Insurance, a whale for Pacific Life Insurance and a bull for Merrill-Lynch financial services.

Animal images are one thing but those marketing gurus have also come up with "spokesanimals." For instance, the gecko for Geico insurance. There's a duck that quakes "Aflac" in order to promote insurance from a company of that name. And who can forget the three frogs that croak in sequence: Bud–weis-er, Bud-weis-er?

Insects, the most numerous named creatures on earth, have also been included in an ad or two. You might expect these arthropods to be featured in ads for companies that sell insect control services or insect control products. One of the most memorable of such ads was for a major pest control company and featured a cockroach crawling across the TV screen. So realistic was the representation that an occasional unsuspecting homeowner broke the screen of the TV with an object projected to kill the offending insect. Apparently this happened often enough that the company pulled the ad because of the potential for lawsuits.

Sometimes insects in ads speak. This was the case for all of the insect characters in the dueling insect cartoon movies of 1998 -- "A Bug's Life" and "Antz." As you might expect, the ad campaigns for both movies featured -- you guessed it -- the talking insect stars. Some of the insect voices might sound familiar, at least to movie fans. Movie stars, including Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Spacey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, voiced insects in these movies.

Bees show up in a number of advertising campaigns to market such things as tuna and breakfast cereal. Burt's Bees uses a wicker honey bee skep as a symbol for the 150 or so products now marketed by the company. The makers of Nasonex prescription allergy spray use a Latin-Lover bee to sing the praises of their product. There is even a bee-talker commercial advertising Dairy Queen Blizzards.

Faerber's Bee Window is a very successful home window company in Indiana and uses a bumble bee as its symbol. You might ask: Why a bee for a window company? As it turns out, according to owners George and Pam Faerber, the name comes from Pam's father who went by the initial "B" and used a bumble bee to promote his home improvement business.

Insects in some advertisements are used to establish a general mood. For example, the company Sepracor uses a luna moth to promote the sleep aid Lunesta. Both the trade name Lunesta and the common name for the Luna moth are based on Luna, the Latin name for the earth's moon. What could be better to suggest successful sleep than a moon and a night-flying moth?

LG, a world-wide consumer electronics manufacturer, features a bright-colored swallowtail butterfly on shipping packages for their flat-screen televisions. The butterfly image no doubt sends a double message. The first would be that the product in the package provides a clear and accurate picture. But, in addition, a butterfly is symbolic of LG's commitment to the green movement.

Even the 2009 Super Bowl ads did not escape an infestation of insects. The Coca-Cola "Heist" ad featured a band of bugs stealing a bottle of Coke. That thieving throng of insects included ladybugs, grasshoppers, bees, dragonflies, butterflies, a hornworm caterpillar and a unicorn beetle to pop the cap off the purloined Coke bottle.

The Coke heist wasn't voted the best of the Super Bowl ads. But then that's not too surprising. After all, insects are seldom the favorite animals of humans, even if they happen to be part of a mass-media advertising campaign.


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Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox