Parody,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “is the last refuge of the frustrated writer.” It became fertile ground for advertising creators, however, when the Energizer Bunny marched into television history in October 1989. Wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and blue thong sandals, the beloved E.B. demonstrated the longevity of Energizer batteries while drumming his way into the hearts and minds of millions, whether fluffy toy aficionados or couch critics bent on skewering bad ads.
Dubbed the “pesky pink percussionist,” E.B. became one of Advertising Age’s top five 20th-century ad icons by making surprise appearances in 20-second faux commercials that were dead ringers for real ones. In one spot, housewives were discussing the merits of instant coffee when he upended a sugar bowl. In another, his tablecloth yanks unnerved the sophisticates swilling “Chateau Marmoset” wine. A “Nasatene” nasal spray spot even featured the familiar “use only as directed” caveat. “Still going!” the voiceover always intoned. “Nothing outlasts the Energizer.” The claim was challenged and dropped, but “it keeps going, and going, and going” stayed.
What endeared this robo rabbit to viewers was knowing he could show up anywhere; so many legitimate commercials fit the parody formula that audiences were often fooled. “His TV commercials not only cut through the clutter, they make fun of the inane ads that are the clutter,” USA Today reported.
While the Venice, Calif., agency now called TBWA/Chiat/Day launched the parody spots, then-DDB Needham, Chicago, created the first E.B. to send up rival Duracell’s pink bunny drum corps. According to industry estimates, Energizer—then owned by the Eveready Battery Company—had 40 percent of sales, compared to Duracell’s 45. Presumably E.B. boosted bottom lines; North America is now his territory, while Duracell bunnies dominate Europe.
From commercial stardom, E.B. quickly advanced to costar and celebrity status, appearing with Wile E. Coyote, Darth Vader, and Elvis, and visiting late-night show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman. When his parent company offered a stuffed E.B. doll for three proofs of purchase and $14.95, 10,000 requests poured in during the first two weeks.
E.B.’s progeny still make commercials, which now total more than 115. In 1994 the Hot Hare Balloon debuted; at 166 feet tall and wearing size 98 EEEEE flip-flops, it’s the world’s largest hot-air balloon. E.B. also graces the small screen; he’ll deliver daily quotes to your computer, ostensibly promoting longevity, perseverance, determination—and batteries. And parody notwithstanding, he’s a protected species. When a commercial for an East Coast regional Ford dealer featured a Ford Bronco running over a faux E.B., viewer complaints forced it off the air.
Cathy Madison wrote about the Marlboro Man in the May/June 2007 issue of the magazine.