Forget QR codes, projection mapping and check-in apps, the big gimmick in advertising at the moment appears to be puppetry. Yes the furry hand puppets that a generation grew up on are back with a vengeance, however, these furry ambassadors aren’t as clean cut as the characters you may remember from your youth.
We recently covered the comedy web series from Ford which focused on the exploits of its latest brand ambassador Doug, a hand puppet with an eye for the ladies. Wrigley’s is another brand that is relying on puppetry – this time a singing Unicorn – to bring it viral traction across the net.
Air New Zealand have been utiliing a similar ambassador to that of Ford, with Rico the slightly risqué South American puppet appearing in a string of globe trotting ads that have divided the nation. Reviled by some for his leering nature when it comes to women in the ads (with some staff actually embarrassed by the creation of the new ad character, branding him a “sleazeball”).
The Airline, however, has turned this to their advantage and paired up the furry travel mascot with Snoop Dog on a music video, entitled ‘Hello Sunshine’. The video sees Rico jumping on an Air New Zealand plane to the US at Snoop’s request, only to find himself surrounded by women as he lays down the track in the studio.
The ad has left some questioning how the campaign is benefiting the airline. However, Air New Zealand's marketing manager Mike Tod stands up for the promotion, saying: "Both [ambassadors] have courted controversy in their careers and both love to sing - arguably one better than the other, but still, it makes for some light entertainment".
Puppets offer brands a chance to play with character traits that would not work on a human level, giving them the ability to develop a more edgy persona from behind the relative safety of these non threatening ambassadors. Having a man ogling women would be unsettling and somewhat controversial, but a puppet - which clearly can’t physically act on its comments - offers some level of safe harbour for advertisers.
Unfortunately the flip side of this relative creative freedom is that ads in this genre suffer from a lack of human connection, keeping the viewer very much on the outside leaving them unable to empathise directly with the character on screen.
That said with the recent pairing of Gwyneth Paltrow and the Muppets at the Grammy awards, expect a number of other puppet based music campaigns to roll out in the near future.