1998 saw the introduction of a new action hero in the brand mascot world. He stood at 14-inches high and had the backbone the size of Missouri. He was Buddy Lee in Buddy Lee: Man of Action, the latest ad campaign for Lee Dungarees from Lee Jeans.
This wasn’t the first time audiences had been introduced to the character. Chester Reynolds, a former sales manager for Lee Jeans, had originally introduced the Buddy Lee doll in 1920. At barely 12-inches tall, the doll served as a “model” and wore miniature versions of the brand’s shirts and jeans. For a time, the dolls were so popular that Lee sold them after their displays had been taken down. Eventually though, the fad ended and the dolls were discontinued in 1962.
Ad agency Fallon McElligott (better known as Fallon today) revitalized the icon in 1998 for a new campaign promoting Lee Dungarees. Much like many blockbuster films of the decade, the campaign had a budget of $30 million and advertised on major cable networks like MTV and ESPN. This time, Buddy Lee was positioned as a man of action. He went to heroic lengths to save everything from speeding cars to wallets. Buddy Lee always left everyone in awe of his bravery — and also questioning where he got his indestructible jeans. Said jeans were also Buddy Lee tested so you “can’t bust ‘em” according to the brand’s tagline.
Buddy Lee remained cool and calm surrounded by celebrities like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sacha Baron Cohen that made cameo appearances in commercials and directors like Spike Jonze who brought the TV spots to life. In fact, he never even blinked. An actual Buddy Lee promotional doll from the 1920s was used to portray the character throughout the campaign’s five-year run. The pressure might have been on, but luckily Buddy never cracked once.