There were four types of commercials that Gregg Victor always wanted to create featuring brand mascots in the advertising space. He wanted to make a cereal commercial that took place during nighttime, create an original character, give an iconic character the chance to cry, and do something, anything, involving Godzilla.
Even though nobody thought he would, the long-time creative director was able to fulfill all of his commercial dreams. Little did he know that their stars would include Lucky the Leprechaun, Major EZ, and BuzzBee!
The School Of Visual Arts — Where It All Began
Victor, who grew up in Queens, New York, attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Manhattan. His goal was to become a comic book illustrator.
During his last year at SVA, Victor enrolled in the same illustration and advertising classes as one of his friends. One friend encouraged Victor to switch over to the film school in animation. Victor quickly discovered in his advertising classes that you could do animation in that medium, too. As graduation approached, businesses came to SVA to recruit students with assignments. These assignments, if taken seriously and completed by students, could lead to potential job offers. Ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi gave SVA students an assignment and out of the 703 people that did it, Victor got the job.
“I was hired into advertising before I graduated from college,” Victor says, “While everyone else was doing their portfolios, I was working at an office by the Chrysler Building!”
Getting Started At Saatchi & Saatchi
Victor started out as an illustrator at Saatchi & Saatchi. Over the years, he quickly worked his way up the career ladder. Victor went from illustrator to writing scripts and storyboards and later became an art director and creative director. He also worked at some of the most fabled ad agencies in the world, including Leo Burnett and DDB New York.
What about those four legendary campaigns he brought to life? I got the chance to chat with Victor, who is currently creative director at Burns Group, about how his four dream commercials came together — and some other fun spots starring characters!
“Green Tree” | Lucky Charms
Victor was able to fulfill two of his commercial dreams with the help of Lucky the Leprechaun. The first was shooting a commercial for Lucky Charms that went from day to night with the star marshmallow. Lucky is so taken back by the beauty of the stars and constellations in the night sky that the kids catch up with him and his cereal because of it.
“Green Tree” was a much more serious commercial. The early ‘90s 60-second spot opens with Lucky skipping along to hide his Lucky Charms in the forest from the kids. Suddenly, Lucky, and the kids, stop in their tracks. The forest has been destroyed. It only has tree stumps and confused animals looking to find a new home.
“Oh no. People have cut down all me trees and forgot to plant new ones.” Lucky tearfully says, as he sits down on a tree stump. “Now there’s no place for me to hide me Lucky Charms.”
Lucky wipes a tear from his eye. The kids get a little closer, but with no intent on taking his cereal. They suggest Lucky make more trees using his magic, but Lucky is quick to point out that he only has “marshmallow magic.”
This sparks Lucky’s ‘Eureka!’ moment. Why, it’s the kids that have the magic! They can help Lucky out by planting trees — baby trees — and to help them remember, Lucky uses his magic to include marshmallow trees in every box of Lucky Charms. The commercial wraps with a mention that with two proofs of purchase, you can receive a free baby tree.
There was nothing about this spot that Victor says he didn’t have to fight “tooth and nail” for. Victor fought for the length to be 60 seconds long to ensure a smooth transition to the real cereal box and tree featured at the end. He fought for the inclusion of a thunderclap once Lucky gets to the edge of the forest where there are no trees to signify something was wrong. He fought for Lucky’s tears, the first time a cereal mascot openly wept on camera. Victor fought for the spot until he had tears in his own eyes.
“This is Lucky’s entire habitat.” Victor points out, “The forest is gone, which is the horrible part. But, it’s not about the character. It’s about the magic that the kids have in planting trees. Even 30 years ago, every kid I knew was concerned about the environment and wanted to help save the rainforests and the world.”
Uli Meyer, supervising animator for the ‘90s hit Space Jam, directed “Green Tree.” The Lucky Charms commercial was a hit with audiences; especially kids. Cereal sales soared, and over 6 million trees were planted across the country.
“Return To Hushville” | Cocoa Puffs
During Victor’s time at Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad agency had the General Mills account. One of the first accounts he worked on was Cocoa Puffs featuring mascot Sonny the Cuckoo Bird.
Victor questioned what else the character could do aside from go crazy for his own cereal. “If we’re always talking about how crunchy Cocoa Puffs is, why not have him eat a cereal in a quiet place?” This question led to the creation of the kingdom of Hushville, where King Shush outlawed loud sounds.
The two-part episode featured Sonny entering the kingdom and making the grave mistake of biting into crunchy Cocoa Puffs. The crunch is so loud, he is immediately sent to jail in the cliffhanger first episode. In its sequel, Sonny must convince King Shush that the taste of Cocoa Puffs is worth the loud noise (and freeing him out of jail, too). As it turns out, King Shush loves the cereal but has kept the city quiet for so long because he is embarrassed by his own silly voice. Cocoa Puffs, and Sonny, are embraced by Hushville hereafter.
Shush was an original Victor design, and also voiced by Victor himself who based the voice off of actor and comedian Ed Wynn.
“Major EZ” | Pop-Tarts
King Shush from Cocoa Puffs was an original Victor design, but Pop-Tarts’ Major EZ was a character originally created and designed by Victor.
The look for Major EZ was inspired by the popular ‘90s animated series The Tick and used a super stylized animation style. A young teenager (inspired by Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) bemoans his breakfast dilemma. With a fridge full of bacon, eggs, and bagels begging him to cook them, the teen says it’s too much work. Can’t it just be easy to make breakfast?
Major EZ bursts into the room. He declares that “easy” is the magic word, and exchanges quick banter with the kid (overlapping dialogue that Victor says is “almost impossible” to do in advertising). Major EZ banishes the complicated breakfast items and pulls out the Pop-Tarts, pastries that take all of two minutes to toast and eat. It’s “breakfast the EZ way” — and it boosted sales for Pop-Tarts by 12%, four times what Kellogg’s had hoped for.
“Bedrock sLabs” | Post Pebbles Cereal
Does this Post Pebbles cereal commercial look unique to you? That’s because it’s the first stop-motion Pebbles spot ever made in 2012 from Victor at Burns Group.
The inspiration behind the stop-motion animation spot starring Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble came from animation used in Rankin/Bass Productions. “[Rankin/Bass] is insanely charming and made by hand.” Victor says, “Look at the world of The Flintstones! It’s all made by hand, so it makes sense to use a medium made by hand.”
“Godzilla” | Honey Nut Cheerios
Who’s the biggest, toughest guy you can think of that can’t be tempted by the taste of honey and nuts? Only one name came to mind while Victor was at Saatchi & Saatchi: Godzilla!
Unlike Cocoa Puffs’ Sonny, the character of BuzzBee always tempted people to try his cereal. Could BuzzBee tempt the hungry tummy of such a massive monster with Honey Nut Cheerios? There was only one way to find out!
Victor, a big fan of the movies from Toho Studios, began quickly working on a campaign starring Godzilla. Saatchi producers talked to Toho Studios about picking out shots from one or two of their movies to use in the Cheerios spot. (Tough to narrow down since Victor had initially started with four different movies!)
Victor looks back at the Godzilla commercial with great pride. The storyboard was essentially the final product and required no revisions of any kind. “It looked like I had traced the television set.”
Drawing BuzzBee was also carefully done. The bee’s size was up against Godzilla and had to be ‘this big’ in relation to the monster (oh, and the cereal bowl) in order to see him. There were also subtitles included, all of which flew out of Godzilla’s mouth to emphasize his delight in the cereal.
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall for Honey Nut Cheerios!” BuzzBee happily notes at the end of the spot.
“I can say with absolute assuredly that the Godzilla and Honey Nut Cheerios spot was the only spot in my entire career where nobody said anything negative about it at all. No revisions needed. It just flew through!”
Learn about Gregg’s portfolio and work with him at GreggVictor.com