The Return of Mr. Bill! Woo Hoo!

The BigDog over at Another Day In The DogHouse writes about the return of Mr. Bill…

Mr. Bill Returns… “Oh, Noooo!!!!”

This hit me as ‘Well Played’…

I remember watching ‘Saturday Night Live’ as a teenager when most of the episodes were new. One of my favorite bits was ‘The Mr. Bill Show”. Cracked me up every time. Since my name is Bill, I’ve walked into a room or situation thousands of times, only to be greeted with ‘Oh, No, Mr. Bill!!!!’.

I love that. I absolutely love that.

It’s a lot better that the things that you normally hear when your name is Bill (or even worse, when I was younger, it was always ‘Billy”). ‘Which way you going, Billy’, ‘Billy, Don’t be a Hero’, and no, I can’t bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy. Getting asked where the other the Billy Goats were at. There were many, many songs and nursery rhymes where being Bill or Billy wasn’t very cool.

Then along came Mr. Bill. Suddenly, and for maybe the first time in my life, it was cool to be a Bill. Or, make that, Mr. Bill. Sweetness.

Read today in the New Your Times Online that my friend Mr. Bill is making a comeback. Here’s the link, and here’s the article:

Mr. Bill Returns (in One Piece) to Pitch a Debit Card

By WENDY A. LEE
Published: June 3, 2008

MasterCard executives have found a new poster boy for the angst-ridden economy: Mr. Bill.

The small clay figure that appeared in “Saturday Night Live” short films three decades ago — being dismembered, pulverized and humiliated to his falsetto cries of “Oh, nooooo!” — will be the latest star of MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign.

He is being revived as a debit-card holder who gets roughed up but keeps on going. The 30-second spot, to start airing next Monday, casts Mr. Bill as an urban professional on his daily routine:

Mr. Hands pours hot coffee on him (“coffee: $2”), a personal trainer launches him off a treadmill (“gym: $59/mo.”), and an opened briefcase flips him onto the windshield of a city bus (“briefcase: $120”).

Mr. Bill, rolling with endless punches, just enjoys the ride home: “Making it through the day: priceless.” A voice-over adds, “For whatever comes your way, there’s debit MasterCard.”priceless. Mr. Bill faces life’s daily trials with resilience.

The spot is meant to tap into the current “unsureness about what’s going to happen next,” said Joyce King Thomas, executive vice president and chief creative officer at McCann-Erickson, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, which created the “Priceless” campaign for MasterCard in 1997.

“This is the sunny Mr. Bill,” she added. “We wanted to make him a character who can handle things beyond his control and stay optimistic.”

Part of the idea is that baby boomers who made “oh nooooo!” jokes in their college dorms will remember Mr. Bill fondly, and younger people to whom the shorts are ancient history will enjoy seeing him get abused.

“It’s very interesting that 30 years later, you can bring this character back,” said Edward Russell, an assistant professor of advertising at Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “It tells me that they’re really going after 44-plus-year-olds, which would make sense since this is a group with more disposable income.”

Mr. Russell, who remembers watching the “SNL” skits in college, did have one quibble: “It’s hard to say that this is completely true to the real Mr. Bill. In the ad, Mr. Bill always finds something positive. That wasn’t true in the original series — he just got hurt.”

Ms. Thomas of McCann-Erickson said that Mr. Bill tested well with viewers of all ages. People who had never heard of him before “found him to be a charming character,” she said. “He’s a little clay guy who things happen to and he’s just fine.”

Mr. Bill made his debut on “Saturday Night Live” on NBC in 1976 when his creator, Walter Williams, won the show’s home video contest using a reel of film that he shot in his living room with a budget of $10. “No one hired me to create Mr. Bill,” said Mr. Williams, now a filmmaker in New Orleans, in a telephone interview.

Mr. Bill appeared on the first five seasons of the show, and Mr. Williams became a staff writer after three years, which is when he started being paid for Mr. Bill for the first time. He owns all the rights to the character, and he directed the MasterCard spot.

“I’ve been doing everything I can to kill him off for 30 years, but he seems to be coming back,” Mr. Williams said.

Since “SNL,” Mr. Bill has appeared in ads for Burger King, Ramada Inn, Pringles and Lexus. Mr. Williams has declined offers to appear in promotions for beer and casinos. “It taints the character,” he said. “I didn’t want Mr. Bill associated with the end of Johnny’s college fund.”

MasterCard is not the only company that sees Mr. Bill as a reflection of the nation’s mood: Subway sandwich shops picked up the character for ads in January.

”I think it’s the times, like how Charlie Chaplin flourished in the Depression,” Mr. Williams said. “People are looking for comedy.”

Dark humor had been out of vogue in the period after 9/11, Mr. Williams said; requests to use Mr. Bill declined. “Having a character stepped on and crumbled was just not funny,” he said. Apparently, it is again.

Mr. Williams, who devotes most of his time to promoting wetlands restoration in New Orleans, said that Mr. Bill’s commercial activity helps underwrite his nonprofit efforts, like public service announcements for hurricane protection. After Katrina, Senator Mary L. Landrieu famously said, “How can it be that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?”

Although MasterCard insisted that it was not using Mr. Bill to market specifically to consumers’ economic plight, the spot does highlight debit cards, which do not permit their owners to spend more money than they have (in theory), rather than credit cards, a riskier tool.

Americans are not backing away from spending and accumulating debt, but “they are being more careful,” said David Wyss, chief economist of Standard and Poor’s. People are “trading down,” he said, compensating for higher food and energy prices by shopping at discount stores like Wal-Mart and Costco.

Tim Murphy, president of the United States region for MasterCard Worldwide, said that more dollars were being spent in “the everyday categories, with gasoline taking up a larger part of consumers’ pocketbooks.”

That trend is not a bad one for MasterCard, which wants consumers to use debit cards to pay for casual purchases, like $2 cups of coffee. “The pitch for debit is that it gives consumers control and versatility,” Mr. Murphy said. “Mr. Bill uses it to buy everyday items and to pay a recurring bill.”

But Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group, said that debit cards were far from a panacea. “If you’re using plastic, you tend to spend more than when using cash,” he said, adding that cardholders can incur heavy fines if they overdraw their accounts.

Mr. Mierzwinski also said that debit transactions — and the right to dispute them — are not legally protected the way credit card transactions are. “Zero liability promises on debit cards are only promises, they’re not the law,” he said.

MasterCard is not the only payment card company that has adjusted its pitch in light of economic conditions. Discover Financial Services recently started advertising its “paydown planner,” an online calculator that shows cardholders how to reduce their balances within a certain time frame or by making specific monthly payments.

However the economy swings, Mr. Bill will probably not be a recurring mascot for MasterCard. “We usually try to do something just once,” Ms. Thomas of McCann-Erickson said.

_________________________________

And what does the BigDog say?

A BIG ‘Paws Up!’ Woof!


Welcome back, Mr. Bill. We missed ‘ya.

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~ by thehotblog on June 11, 2008.

3 Responses to “The Return of Mr. Bill! Woo Hoo!”

  1. It’s about time! I hear that Hillary Clinton is playing Mr. Sluggo!

  2. I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

  3. Woo Hoo! is right!

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