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9 Times Companies Used Puppets to Sell Stuff

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DIRECTV's latest advertising campaign was designed to promote the broadcast satellite provider by spreading the message that unseemly wires were no longer required as part of the service (even though that is technically impossible). Instead, the commercials — which revolve around a seemingly normal human adult male, his insecure marionette puppet wife, and mopey, insecure marionette puppet son — have been widely mocked and criticized as creepy or sexist.

The risk of creeping people out is always involved when puppetry is used to sell products, but sometimes they're welcomed as a nice change of pace. Here are nine puppets that companies have used to shill products.

1. RICO

In 2010, a rodent puppet named Rico became the spokespuppet for Air New Zealand and peppered the airwaves with his painfully obvious sexual innuendos. Rico teamed up to collaborate with Snoop Dogg, David Hasselhoff, and Lindsay Lohan, and was ultimately "murdered" by Richard Simmons.

2. GODADDY AND PUPPETSBYGWEN

During this year's Super Bowl, GoDaddy ran an ad starring a real-life machine engineer who made puppets during her free time. After being selected out of one hundred people who wanted to commit to their own business full-time, Gwen Dean announced to the country that she was quitting her job to focus exclusively on puppetsbygwen.com, now boosted by an ad with an audience of 111.5 million people. She officially sent a letter of resignation right after the commercial aired, and her boss was cool about it, calling the commercial "great."

3. ABLA FAHITA

Earlier this year, the continuing tension in Egypt produced an odd news story when a popular puppet was accused of sending terrorist messages in a Vodafone ad. Abla Fahita is a "gossipy widow" puppet character who claimed in a 2013 commercial to have lost her late husband's SIM card in a shopping mall.

Conspiracy theorists came to the conclusion that the Fahita puppet was a British agent who was expressing veiled bomb threats and coded messages through the ads. Even though there was an official investigation — albeit one that was "widely mocked" by Egyptian citizens — Fahita "herself" appeared via Skype on an Egyptian CBC station to deny the allegations.

4. BAR NONE: THE PETS.COM DOG'S SECOND ACT

Pets.com was the quintessential bubble company. The website that sold pet supplies directly to customers had a high-profile marketing campaign during its twenty-seven-month existence starring a popular dog sock puppet. The spots were created by the advertising firm responsible for the classic Apple "1984" commercial and the Taco Bell chihuahua.

Pets.com ended up losing money and self-liquidated in November of 2000, but that did not spell the end for its most famous employee. For the price of $125,000, Bar None acquired the puppet's rights, and the car loan company also adopted a new slogan: "Everybody deserves a second chance." Advertisements featuring the dog continue to run today, to only the possible exasperation of the previous star of the Bar None commercials, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

5. THE SNUGGLE BEAR

The adorable Snuggle Bear, a.k.a. Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear, first appeared in 1983 and was voiced for many years by veteran voice actor Corinne Orr (who also voiced all of the female characters in both the original anime Speed Racer and the 2008 movie).

Plenty of people found Snuggle Bear to be creepy, especially when it came to his watchful eye over an infant in this ad. This led to The State and MadTV producing parodies where the housewife in the iconic ads gets frightened and beats up Snuggles.

If that weren't enough, 150,000 Snuggle "Teeny Bean Bears" that came with the fabric softener were recalled in 2001 for possessing a choking hazard. One year later, 4 million plush Snuggle bears were voluntarily recalled because the eyes and nose were detachable and delicious-looking enough for some kids to put in their mouths. Fortunately, no casualties were reported in either case.

6. LIL' PENNY

Launched on November 4, 1995, Nike's "Lil' Penny" campaign was great advertising for Orlando Magic guard Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and comedian Chris Rock, possibly more so than the sneakers themselves. The commercials gave the 24-year-old Hardaway a cool persona to accompany his continuing ascent into NBA stardom. Rock, on the other hand, was at a crossroads, two years removed from his unhappy stint on Saturday Night Live, and at a time when he considered himself a "has-been." But the ads and the 1996 premiere of Rock's stand-up special Bring the Pain made the comic one of the biggest stars in the country. But before Rock was famous enough himself to make his first official debut on Oprah, Lil' Penny scored a sit down with Winfrey.

The legacy of the commercials continues. The 6-foot 7-inch version of Penny would never win a championship and injuries plagued him for the remainder of his 14-year career, but Hardaway became the first NBA player not named Michael Jordan to have his Nike sneaker line continue after his retirement. In 2009, Nike successfully went back to the well with ads featuring Kobe Bryant and LeBron James puppets.

7. THE LITTLE CAESARS

The Little Caesars were a four-piece band that performed and sang in the name of Little Caesars and of the joys of pizza in general. Above is a 1992 music video for a song that changes the lyrics of "Wooly Bully" to "Pizza! Pizza!" In a second commercial, the group performs their own unique version of Shirley Ellis' "The Name Game," which promoted both pizza and spaghetti (added to the Little Caesars menu in the summer of 1993), which by August was available in various bucket sizes including "Big!Big!"

8. FARFEL THE DOG

Named after the pellet shaped noodle, Farfel the Dog got his start on television in the 1950s, regularly joining dummy Danny O'Day and his creator, ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, on The Toast of the Town (later known as The Ed Sullivan Show) and on the Milton Berle-hosted Texaco Star Theater. Farfel and O'Day began to sell Nestle's Quik in 1955, initially as live ads on The Jackie Gleason Show. Farfel would always bring the ads home, answering his companion's "N-E-S-T-L-E-S/Nestlé's makes the very best" with a drawn out "Chawwwc'-lit."

Farfel became a breakout puppet celebrity, and in 1959, he came close to music stardom when Everly Brothers producer Archie Bleyer wanted Farfel to say the spoken word lines on "Bird Dog." Bleyer, though, was overruled.

The Nestle ads concluded in 1965, but Farfel was not forgotten. In the 1991 Seinfeld episode "The Dog," Jerry was forced to take care of an unruly canine named Farfel. Just in case some viewers didn't get the joke, Elaine made herself a glass of chocolate milk during a scene where Jerry is struggling with the barking mutt.

One year later, Farfel made a comeback promoting Nestle candy for the holiday season. In the commercial he sings the classic Nestle theme, joined by five dog puppets that one can only presume to be members of his then never-before-seen family, who all shop at the same store for their seasonal sweaters.

9. THE MUPPETS

Companies and ad agencies have learned that you can rarely go wrong with a muppet. The first commercials with muppets ran in 1957 and were 10 seconds long, promoting Wilkins Coffee during station identification breaks. A muppet named Wilkins (who sounded a lot like Kermit) would ask a muppet named Wontkins if he wanted a Wilkins coffee. Wontkins always lived up to his name and would not, and, as punishment for his wrong decision was punched in the face, shot in the face, electrocuted, stomped on, and more. Wontkins continued to work with Wilkins in commercials for other regional companies, including the then-Michigan-exclusive Faygo soft drinks in 1958 and 1959. No matter the product, they would tend to end with Wontkins down for the count.

A fair share of companies through 1970 asked for Jim Henson-created characters to grace their ads, including IBM, Hawaiian Punch, and RCA. Once the premiere of Sesame Street and later The Muppet Show gave The Muppets regular exposure, the ads tapered off. Within the last ten years, though, we have seen the likes of Miss Piggy appearing in a Dove ad and shilling for Pizza Hut with Jessica Simpson, and Kermit promoting the Ford Hybrid during the 2006 Super Bowl.

In 2014, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem drove Terry Crews crazy in a Toyota, Miss Piggy ate a bunch of pistachios, The Swedish Chef got a job as a sandwich artist at Subway, and the gang enjoyed Go-Gurts with their faces on them.

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5 Quick Facts About the Hashtag
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The use of the hashtag as a Twitter tool to denote a specific topic in order for the masses to follow along turns 10 years old today, having first been suggested (in a Tweet, naturally) by Silicon Valley regular and early adopter Chris Messina back in 2007. Here’s a little history on its evolution from the humble numerical sign to the social media giant it is today.

1. IT COMES FROM THE LATIN TERM FOR “POUND WEIGHT.”

There’s no definitive origin story for the hash (or pound) symbol, but one belief is that when 14th-century Latin began to abbreviate the term for pound weight—libra pondo—to “lb,” a horizontal slash was added to denote the letters were connected. (The bar was called a tittle.) As people began to write more quickly, the letters and the tittle became amalgamated, eventually morphing into the symbol we see today.

2. IT SHOULD ACTUALLY BE CALLED AN OCTOTHORPETAG.

The symbol portion of the hashtag eventually made its way to dial-button telephones, the result of AT&T looking forward to phones interacting with computers. In order to complete a square keypad with 10 digits (including 0), they added the numerical sign and an asterisk. AT&T employee Don MacPherson thought they sign needed a more official name, so he chose Octothorpe—“octo” because it has eight points, and “thorpe” because he was a fan of football hero Jim Thorpe.

3. TWITTER WASN’T BIG ON THE IDEA AT FIRST.

When web marketer Messina had the notion to add hashtags to keep track of conversations, he stopped by Twitter’s offices to make an informal pitch. He came at a bad time: co-founder Biz Stone was trying to get the software back online after a crash and dismissed the idea with a “Sure, we’ll get right on that” burn. Undeterred, Messina started using them and the habit caught on.

4. IT’S IN THE OXFORD DICTIONARY.

By 2014, respect for the hashtag had grown to the point where the venerable Oxford English Dictionary gave the word its stamp of approval. Their entry: "hashtag n. (on social media web sites and applications) a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic; (also) the hash symbol itself, when used in this way."

5. THERE ARE SOME HASHTAG ALL-TIMERS.

Hashtags can highlight interest in everything from political movements to breaking news stories, but the frequency of their use is often tied into popular culture. The most popular TV-related tag has been #TheWalkingDead; #StarWars sees a lot of action; and #NFL dominates sports-related Tweets.  

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12 Sharp Facts About Hellraiser
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In 1987, the New World Pictures released Hellraiser, a horror film about a family who opens a puzzle box and invites hell in their lives in the form of pleasure-pain creatures known as Cenobites, who are lead by Pinhead (played by Doug Bradley). Unlike many other horror films at the time, Hellraiser wasn’t a slasher film, and Pinhead wasn’t a boogeyman.

British novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Clive Barker wanted to direct a feature film, so he adapted his 1986 horror novella, The Hellbound Heart, into Hellraiser. Despite the graphic nature of the film, it’s really a love story between Julia Cotton and her demented—and skinless—lover Frank  ... whose relationship just so happens to revolve around sadistic torture.

Hellraiser was produced for around a $1 million and grossed $14 million, making it lucrative enough to spawn nine sequels, including this year’s Hellraiser: Judgment. (Bradley hasn’t starred in a Hellraiser film since 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations, and Barker didn’t direct or write any of the sequels, most of which were direct-to-DVD releases.) As we near the 30th anniversary of its release, let's take a look back at this horror classic.

1. THE ORIGINS OF PINHEAD CAME FROM A 1973 PLAY.

Before Doug Bradley uttered the catchphrase “We’ll tear your soul apart,” Clive Barker directed him in a 1973 play called Hunters in the Snow, in which Bradley played the Dutchman, a torturer who would become the basis for Pinhead.

“The character I played in Hunters, the Dutchman, I can see echoes of later... Pinhead in Hellraiser," Bradley said. "This strange, strange character whose head was kind of empty but who conveyed all kinds of things.”

Barker’s mid-1980s short story “The Forbidden”—which was adapted into Candyman—from his "Books of Blood" series, featured the first incarnation of Pinhead’s nails. “One image I remember very strongly from 'The Forbidden' was that Clive had built what he called his nail-board, which was basically a block of wood which he’d squared off and then he’d banged six-inch nails in at the intersections of the squares,” Bradley said. “Of course, when I saw the first illustrations for [Pinhead], it rang a bell with me that here was Clive putting the ideas that he’d been playing around with the nail-board in 'The Forbidden,' now 10, 15 years later. He’d now put the image all over a human being’s face.”

2. CLIVE BARKER CAST “REAL ACTORS.”

Unlike many other horror movies of the time, which were more concerned with gore than great acting, Barker insisted that they look for real talent in the casting. “I’m not just taking the 12 most beautiful youths in California and murdering them,” Barker told The Washington Post in 1987. “I’ve got real actors, real performers—and then I’m murdering them.” The “real” refers to British theater actors like Bradley, Clare Higgins, and Andrew Robinson.

3. PINHEAD WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE POSTER.

New World Pictures

Bradley said the filmmakers wanted skinned Frank to be on the poster, but the studio said no to the grotesque imagery, so Pinhead was used on the poster instead. “Maybe that came from Clive, because what we get in that image of Pinhead with the box is the heart of the Hellraiser mythology,” Bradley said. “If you put The Engineer or the skinned man on the poster, it’s an amazing image but it’s just an image, and it could come from any movie.” Bradley thought using Pinhead’s face made more sense. “The big success of Pinhead is because the image is so original, so startling. It is just an incredible image to look at, and that made a big difference in terms of the public's perception of the movie.”

4. NO ONE KNEW THAT DOUG BRADLEY WAS PINHEAD.

Bradley’s Pinhead mug was everywhere—on the cover of magazines and on the movie’s poster—but no one mentioned his name. “It was great to be so heavily featured, but there was no way to prove to anyone that it was actually me,” Bradley said. “Those who were following Hellraiser at the time were wondering where the guy with the pins was! Well I can tell you where I was—I was sitting at home in England, watching it all happen from the sidelines.”

5. THE CENOBITES' DESIGN WAS INSPIRED BY S&M CLUBS.

In the box set’s liner notes, Barker wrote that the Cenobites's “design was influenced amongst other things by punk, by Catholicism, and by the visits I would take to S&M clubs in New York and Amsterdam.” Costume designer Jane Wildgoose created the costumes, based on Barker’s instruction of “repulsive glamour.”

“The other notes that I made about what he wanted was that they should be ‘magnificent super-butchers,’” Wildgoose said.

As for Pinhead, Barker said he “had seen a book containing photographs of African fetishes: sculptures of human heads crudely carved from wood and then pierced with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of nails and spikes. They were images of rage, the text instructed.”

6. IT'S REALLY A LOVE STORY.

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Julia is forced to bring men back to her house and murder them for Frank so that he can replenish his flesh. Barker looked at Hellraiser as more of a love story, with Julia committing these heinous acts in the name of love, not just to be brutal for no reason.

“She’s not committing murder in the way that Jason in the Friday the 13th films commits murder—just for the sake of blood-letting —she’s doing it for love,” Barker told Samhain. “So there is a sympathetic quality about her, enhanced hugely in my estimation by the fact that Clare Higgins does it so well.”

7. BARKER’S GRANDFATHER INSPIRED THE PUZZLE BOX.

When a person twists the box, known as the Lament Configuration, it summons the Cenobites from the gates of hell into the individual's world. “I wanted to have access to hell in the book and in the first movie, explored by something rather different than drawing a circle on the floor with magical symbols around it,” Barker told WIRED. “That seemed rather stale and rather old.”

Barker explained his grandfather was a cook on ship and brought back a puzzle box from the Far East. “So when I went back to the problem of how to open the doors of hell, the idea of [using] a puzzle box seemed interesting to me. You know, the image of a cube is everywhere in world culture, whether it’s the Rubik’s Cube or the idea of the [Tesseract] in The Avengers movies. There’s a lot of places where the image of a cube as a thing of power is pertinent. I don’t know why that is, I don’t have any mythic explanation for it, but it seems to work for people.”

8. ROGER EBERT WASN'T A FAN OF THE FILM.

Roger Ebert gave Hellraiser just a half star when he reviewed it in 1987. “Who goes to see movies like this? This is a movie without wit, style, or reason,” he wrote, adding that, “I have seen the future of implausible plotting, and his name is Clive Barker.”

9. SOMEONE HAD THE JOB OF MAGGOT AND COCKROACH WRANGLER.

In England, there was a law in which cockroaches of both sexes weren’t allowed on set, because they could have mated and caused an infestation. So Barker had to hire someone to oversee the situation. “The wrangler, this is the honest truth, had to sex the roaches,” Barker told an audience at a Hellraiser screening. “They were all male. And we had a fridge. They move very fast, so the only way to slow them down was to chill them. We chilled the maggots and the roaches. We'd open it up and it was all reassuring. It was fun.”

10. BARKER PREFERS "HELL PRIEST" TO "PINHEAD."

In The Hellbound Heart, the Cenobite with pins sticking out of his head is called The Hell Priest. One of the special effects guys who worked on the movie gave the character his nickname. “I thought it was a rather undignified thing to call the monster, but once it stuck, it stuck,” Barker told Grantland.

In 2015, Barker published a sequel to The Hellbound Heart, The Scarlet Gospels, which features Pinhead getting annoyed when people call him that—as well as Pinhead’s demise. “He will not be coming back, by the way," Barker said. "That I promise you."

11. A HELLRAISER VS. HALLOWEEN MOVIE ALMOST HAPPENED.

In an interview with Game Radar, Bradley said the success of Freddy vs. Jason led Hellraiser distributor Dimension Films to flirt with a Hellraiser vs. Halloween film. “I was actually getting excited by the prospect of this because Clive said he would write it and John Carpenter said he would direct it,” Bradley said. “I actually spoke to Clive about it a couple of times and he was interested in finding the places where the Halloween and Hellraiser worlds intermeshed.” But Moustapha Akkad, who owned the rights to Halloween, extinguished the idea.

12. THE BRITISH BOARD OF FILM CLASSIFICATION HAD TO CHECK THAT NO RATS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE.

While the MPAA requested that a spanking scene be cut for its American release, England's BBFC agreed to release the movie as it was, if they were assured that the rats used in the film weren’t hurt. “I had to bring three remote-control rats into the censor’s office and make them wriggle about on the floor,” producer Christopher Figg told The Telegraph. “They wanted to be sure we hadn’t been cruel to them.”

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