Executive Insights | May 2010 | By Staff

How to Make a Brand Icon

Terri Graham, CMO of Jack in the Box, explains how the brand created and manages its 15-year-old Jack campaign.

Jack in the Box CMO Terri Graham says creating a full back story for the charact
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How did you set out to create an industry icon?

The idea for creating Jack wasn’t necessarily that we were going to create an icon. It really comes from the fact that he was a character, and it was really more the public that established that he was an icon. We created him back in 1995 to reinvent the brand and kick off where we were going with the brand 15 years ago.

What we did, which helped his longevity looking back, was we worked to create a character that would have a lot of dimension, and that’s one of the key things about him. Jack is a very believable character; guests really believe that they have a relationship with Jack. So he has great credibility with customers. That truly helps us break through in a very cluttered advertising environment.

Why is he so believable for consumers?

It’s entertaining when you think of the fact that we created Jack—he has this oversized head, and with it he’s 7 feet tall without his hat—and people have come to believe that he’s real. You’d be shocked what we hear when we do different focus groups and have guests talk about Jack. He delivers messages, and his unique personality resonates with them. Consumers see him as more of our ambassador and someone who is championing for them, not necessarily for us at corporate. They feel that he personally wants them to have great fast food and an enjoyable experience.

That’s a great asset to us because people will believe his messages. It strengthens the brand. And the reason people like what he stands for is because we’ve given him a 360-degree personality. He’s not just the founder of Jack in the Box pushing our products. He’s a dad, he’s a husband, he’s a business man. He acts like an all around normal guy who just happens to have this enormously large head.

How does a brand go about creating a character when its name doesn’t lend itself to that kind of creative as well as the name Jack in the Box?

From a creative perspective, they have to create a personality. You have to really think about who your brand is and how you want to position your brand. Just because you don’t have a name in your brand doesn’t mean you can’t create a personality for a character.

One of the key things that our agency is extremely effective at doing, when you consider the campaign is 15 years old, is parodies and leveraging the current social landscape in the commercials. Nothing is off limits. His self-deprecating humor makes him lovable and endearing. I think that’s one of the key things the agency has been able to do really well.

How important is it for a character to be able to work throughout different marketing media?

It’s a key, quite frankly, to be able to replicate a character over multiple media. If you don’t create a personality that’s really thought out and spans those 360 degrees, the character and campaign won’t last as long. What ends up happening is they fall flat and can’t sustain as long. It will eventually die off because you’ll run out of material.

How do brands keep that momentum going?

For brands to keep a character’s life going, the marketing has to remain relevant. It’s about surprising people. That’s one of the things that’s key to good creative—not knowing what to expect. Those are two elements that I think are critical: relevance and surprise.

The key to the brand campaign from the 2009 Super Bowl was surprise because we nearly killed him. We definitely surprised everyone with where that went; it had some entertainment value. But mostly it created a lot of interest. The best part about that was we found out how relevant Jack is to consumers. We found it most interesting that he was so relevant to all ages—from young to old.

Was it always your plan for Jack to have mass appeal, or did you create him with a target audience in mind?

We have a pretty broad target, but our sweet spot is, of course, young guys. What’s interesting is that men and women love Jack and our age range ends up being 15–44 with him. That’s what was really fascinating about the Super Bowl campaign with the use of social media. That tends to be a teenage or young-adult group, but we also got cards from schools. Little kids were sending in get well cards to Jack. It was amazing who he touched.

Was there ever any interest in creating a character that would appeal specifically to those school-aged children?

Adults were always our focus. We never intended to target children with Jack. We really cater to adults.

In the future, do you see a possibility for brands to create characters that never even make it to television and exist solely online?

Anything is possible, especially in light of where the media lens keeps going. Some people don’t have the dollars to get out there on broadcast. And online is much more affordable.

What are some of the advantages to having a character like Jack versus a real live spokesperson for a brand?

The beauty of Jack is that he doesn’t age, and there’s quite a bit of flexibility because his lips don’t move. On the creative side, that allows us a lot of different things we can do. People love watching us do different things with his facial expressions. That’s part of what makes it exciting and fun for us. For example, the Super Bowl ad with Jack bungee jumping and landing on his head; it’s hard for a spokesperson to be able to do that.