Most brand mascots are known for having a defining signature. The Pillsbury Doughboy loves to giggle, Ronald McDonald wears big red clown shoes, and the GEICO Gecko has a refined accent. When was the last time we looked at a character and saw their signature reflected in their eyes? There are some icons for which that may never even be possible — see the Energizer Bunny and his sunglasses as a prime example.
Meet Cookie Guy
Cookie Guy, the chocolate chip-loaded Chips Ahoy mascot, is the exception to the rule. When he made his 2002 debut, Cookie Guy’s big personality was made all the more expressive by his wide eyes.
Cookie Guy’s 2014 Reboot
After eight years of screen time, the character retired in 2010. The Martin Agency gave him a reboot in 2014 for cookie enthusiasts. Cookie Guy circa 2014 looked a little different than his initial iteration. The previous Cookie Guy was vertical, while the new Cookie Guy was flat and horizontal. He also had slender arms and legs, making it easier to roam around in and out of the cookie jar.
Live-action director Evan Parsons was the associate creative director for the Chips Ahoy “It Takes Ahoy” campaign at The Martin Agency. Parsons specialized in motion graphics, and instantly discovered a kindred spirit in working with the new and improved Cookie Guy. Parsons directed, with the assistance of production company Hue&Cry, four commercials for the “It Takes Ahoy” campaign. Each spot featured the Cookie Guy’s facial expressions like they had never been seen before.
Eyes Are The Windows To The… Cookie’s Soul
While many brand mascots arrive at ad agencies with character bibles of what they can and can’t do, Cookie Guy didn’t come with set personality rules.
Parsons recalls that Cookie Guy was an ever-evolving character, and uses the word “subdued” to describe his behavior. “He’s very quiet. His mischief is mostly based on being observant. The Cookie Guy has a subdued curiosity.”
It was, and still is, a radical departure from most brand mascots. Many of these characters are perceived in a zany, near-maniacal light as they constantly bounce and race around in commercials. Parsons credits this to Cookie Guy’s lack of body movement. “His movement is mostly in the eyes, where the storytelling was done, and we kept it internal.”
“Do Not Disturb”
Let’s take a look at how some of Cookie Guy’s eye expressions work in the spot for “Do Not Disturb.”
Here we have Cookie Guy outside of a closed door. The doorknob has a “do not disturb” sign hanging on it.
We get an up-close shot of his eyes as Cookie Guy contemplates what to do next.
Curiosity is winning out, since his hand is up to touch the sign. Will he open the door?
Nah, he just wanted to tilt the sign ever so gently to the side. Look at that grin! Cookie Guy’s brand of mischief is to act like, and be, a big goofball.
“Ice Cream Headache”
Of the four spots Parsons worked on, “Ice Cream Headache” might have been the most ambitious. There are three new Cookie Guy pals included in this commercial, and everyone’s slurping down crazy cold milkshakes. The perfect drink companion for a cookie.
Their subsequent brain freezes allow the foursome to literally transform into new Chips Ahoy cookie flavors.
One spirals into Mint Chocolate Chip while another turns into a Root Beer Float cookie.
Each detail behind their transformations was brought to completion with the help of a character rig. This rig did more than allowed the animators to coordinate the details for how the Cookie Guys moved. The movements, made possible by the rig, allow viewers to sense their thoughts.
Following Cookie Guy’s Number One Animation Rule
The one rule that had to be followed for bringing Cookie Guy to (animated) life? The rule of what looks delicious. “We never stretched the cookies because then they would look raw and doughy.” Parsons explains, “You don’t want a cookie, especially a cookie mascot, to look like that. And, they’re also cookies. They’re not too capable, so you have to keep their physicality miniscule.”
Parsons recalls working on the spots for months with the team. “We dug into every possible detail with them. Even the spacing of the chocolate chips are heavily scrutinized. We couldn’t have too many clustered around on their faces because then they looked like warts!”
In the end, everything came full circle to Cookie Guy’s eyes and how they could act as the windows to his sense of humor. “This was a campaign where we constantly asked ourselves, ‘How do we make this funny?’ Again, it was all in the eyes. There’s a lot of glancing back and forth, eyes flickering, pupils tightening. These are subtle movements that indicate thought and mischief that comes from the brain. It’s because of his eyes that Cookie Guy, as a character, literally develops right in front of you.”