AdAge Book of Tens: Advertising Icons of the Past Decade

From the Roaming Gnome to the Mucus Monsters

NEW YORK ( — Icons and made-up characters have long been counted on to sell brands so it’s no surprise the first decade of the new millennium ushered in its own crop of memorable mascots. Here, Ad Age staff brainstormed what we deem to be the 10 best icons of the past decade. We’re sure you’ll disagree — in fact, we hope you let us know in the comments what you loved, hated and what we missed. Let the debate begin.

Brand: Travelocity
Travelocity adopted the roaming gnome in the 2004 viral campaign “Where is my Gnome?”-a takeoff on the popular prank of photographing a garden gnome in front of famous landmarks-and it quickly became its go-to mascot. The adventures of Travelocity’s Brit-accented gnome include a swim with dolphins, a poker game on Amazing Race and, more recently, an appearance on Chatroulette.

Brand: Geico
If the Gecko hadn’t been born in 1999 he would have made our list. But since we’re a stickler for rules we’re giving the nod to the Martin Agency-created Cavemen, so easily offended whenever anyone touts the Geico website is “so easy, a caveman could do it.” After all, while it was short-lived and terrible, no other icons penetrated pop culture over the last decade enough to merit their own sitcom.

Brand: Old Spice
A Grand Prix at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, the most viral video of the year and a place in infamy for Isaiah Mustafa. Need we say more about the icon Wieden & Kennedy created to sell deodorant?

“MAC” and “PC”
Brand: Apple
What happens when you inherit an icon-whether you want it or not? Ask Microsoft. Because for an entire generation Justin Long will always be “Mac” and John Hodgeman, his dorky (but kind of loveable) foil “PC.” Thanks to the playful TBWA/Media Arts Lab-crafted Apple ads that blanketed TV and the web from 2006 to 2010 this pair has become one of advertising’s most recognizable duos.

Brand: Dos Equis
His charm is so contagious that vaccines have been created for it. His personality is so magnetic that he’s unable to carry credit cards. At museums he’s allowed to touch the art. And he once had an awkward moment-just to see what it felt like. This Euro RSCG-created mystery man doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis.

Brand: Burger King
OK, we know that a king has been a symbol of Burger King since the first store opened in the 1950s. But it certainly wasn’t the creepy plastic-faced King that Crispin, Porter & Bogusky introduced after it took over the ad account in early 2004. It was panned at first, when the King appeared in bed in an ad that urged people to “wake up with the King,” but soon it became a sort of subversive internet meme, a popular Halloween mask, the star of several XBox games and just generally a face we’ll never forget.

Brand: E-Trade
From Baby Bob to the Evian Roller Babies, talking babies can seem lazy or overly cute. But the E-Trade baby and his cast of friends are neither. The kid’s got a distinct personality — the sort of fratty, bratty day trader you want to hate but find charming all the same. Most people like him so much, they didn’t even notice eTrade swapped actors at some point during this campaign’s existence.

Brand: Capital One
Originally a metaphor for rising interest rates, these Visigoths, set down in the middle of modern society, will do whatever it takes to convince people they should choose a Capital One credit card. Through four years of ads, we’ve followed them from their pillaging days, to when they had to find new jobs (as a women’s shoe salesman, a flight attendant) since everyone had converted, to figuring out how to spend their Capital One rewards points.

Brand: Charmin
The Charmin Bears, which first appeared for the P&G brand in 2000, are awfully important. How important? Enough that they got their bottoms hauled before the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus on a challenge by rival Kimberly-Clark Corp. After careful consideration earlier this year, the NAD concluded the bears must prominently display at least a few specs of cartoon toilet paper on their rears to accurately reflect that Charmin leaves FEWER pieces behind, but not NO pieces behind. They remain reigning kings and queens of TMI on TV.

Brand: Mucinex
Mucus was once of those things kept closely under wraps in advertising. That all changed when Adams Respiratory (and subsequently Reckitt Benckiser) uncoupled the expectorant from the cough medicine in a pill unto itself that was all about clearing away that nagging, choking, thick phlegm. And what better way to demonstrate the benefit than through big walking, talking, partying gooey cartoon boogers? Hate them you may. Forget them you cannot when wrestling with Mr. Mucus this winter. Now, everyone, one big collective throat clearing please.