By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Maytag had no way of knowing 35 years ago that it had found the Everyman of the majap world. But it had.
Since 1967, the Maytag Repairman has gained national recognition as the common, reliable — yet underutilized — uniformed employee, who continues to collect a paycheck, even though the only thing he fixes is lunch.
Maytag is celebrating the 35th anniversary of its familiar commercial character, which it says is the longest-running real-life advertising character in television history. Debuting on the "Today" show in 1967, he became known as Ol' Lonely because he is seen constantly waiting by the phone, hoping somebody will call for his help — but nobody ever does because Maytag's appliances are "so darned reliable."
Marketing professor Christie Nordheilm at Northwestern University attributes the success of Maytag's advertising campaign to its consistency. "What makes cultural icons successful is the fierce protection of an idea. Because Maytag has protected and nurtured the Maytag Repairman character all these years, he's become a friend to consumers. He has definitely become a part of pop culture, and has even showed up in political cartoons."
Even the appearance of the repairman has changed only once, when original actor Jesse White retired in 1989 after doing 68 Maytag commercials. He was replaced by actor Gordon Jump. In 2001, the company added an Apprentice character to illustrate Maytag's emphasis on innovation. But even if he's not as lonely as he used to be, the Repairman is still shown looking for ways to pass the time.
"There's something about Ol' Lonely that people just gravitate to," said Maytag president Bill Beer. "He has human strengths and weaknesses. People identify with him. They trust him."
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