The Hathaway Man & An Eye for Advertising

We’ve seen it in the Dos Equis ‘most interesting man in the world’ ads when we’re being told to “Stay thirsty, friends.” We’ve seen it in the many characters in Progressive commercials, most notably Flo, the friendly saleswoman turned internet sensation. We’ve seen it in Allstate’s ‘Mayhem’ Guy, played by Dean Winters, who impersonates different types of people or objects that could damage your property. One modern advertising technique, employed by many companies, involves creating a character or mascot for your brand to make it more noticable. But how did this technique become so widely used?

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Hathaway, Ogilvy & Mather

In the 1950’s, a man named Ellerton Jette was the CEO of a small men’s shirt company called Hathaway. It was a small business and Jette was trying to find a way to change that. The only problem was that, since it was a small business, the company only had a $30K marketing budget available and they were competing with much bigger companies and budgets. That was when he scored a meeting with Ogilvy & Mather.

Ogilvy & Mather was one of the biggest advertising companies in the world at the time, but they would typically take on much bigger clients. Jette made a promise that if the advertising firm would work with them, Hathaway would never change a letter of their copy and they would remain a client for life. These promises made the modest venture more appealing for Ogilvy & Mather who agreed to take on Hathaway as a client.

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The Eyepatch Man

The advertising firm set up a photoshoot where a distinguished looking gentleman, played by model Baron Wrangell, would be standing at a fancy tailor wearing a Hathaway shirt. On his way to the photoshoot, however, David Ogilvy stopped at a dime store and purchased a few five cent costume eyepatches. After they had taken a few photos, Ogilvy tossed an eyepatch to the model in order to try something different.

When they were reviewing the photos afterwards, they decided that they liked the eyepatch photos best and used those in the campaign. After the ad was printed, sales of Hathaway shirts skyrocketed and the company ended up doubling their profits in less than five years. Later, when asked why he added the eyepatch to the photoshoot, Ogilvy said that he had wanted to turn it from a “product photo shoot” into a story. The eyepatch gave the ad an air of mystery and intrigue- who is this man? How did he lose his eye? What’s his story? These questions hanging in the air caught the attention of customers and the rest was history.

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Character Development

As the character continued on, they gave him an interesting backstory to go along with his mysterious appearance. The first Hathaway man was a Russian Aristocrat while the second, played by Colin Leslie Fox, was a London bookmaker who left to sail around the world.

And their success originated the technique of using story and character as a marketing tool. Now we’ve seen this technique used all over the place, from the Marlboro man to the Geico gecko. It just goes to show how one campaign can create an entirely new technique and change the marketing landscape.