Television Spokes Animals: Screaming Goats to Aristocratic Owls. What's Next?
A little more than a decade ago, a slew of goats, especially screaming and greedy ones, were the leading or co-leading characters in television commercials of certain brands. The goats were portrayed as cute, funny, enduring, and some might even say intellectual.
Enter 2017 and suddenly, to me anyway, there was an explosion of television commercials with spokes owls. Many of them spoke with an aristocratic British, Australian, or South African accent. Perhaps the goal here was to make them sound wiser than your average wise owl.
The hope of the companies and brands responsible for these commercials was that the animals would entice us to exchange our hard-earned money for the goods and services they pitched. Let’s recap some of them.
Consider these TV commercials starring popular potential goat influencers.
The 2007 Aflac (American Family Life Assurance Company) goat’s TV commercial begins in an office setting. A boss and employee discuss company insurance and benefits. The employee asks whether they had Aflac. The boss says they have something else. Cut to a goat chomping on company’s documents. Employee asks if the ‘something else’ pays cash to employees who get hurt and are unable to work. The spokes goat bleats, “Nah.” The employee asks other questions and the goat bleats, “Nah, Nah, Nah…Naaaaah” in response. Aflac’s mascot duck then chases the goat out of the building.
In other versions of this ad, the goat is in the elevator with boss and employee and it’s wearing a mask of the mascot duck.
Capital One "The Remix"
The Capital One, the bank holding corporation, TV commercial spokes goat in 2011: A goat decked out in sunglasses, is performing with a New Orleans jazz band, on stage and in the streets. At one point, the goat seems to be competing with the DJ’s scratching (the record) as the commercial switches back and forth from goat to DJ.
A 2013 Capital One TV commercial titled “Boris, Boris and Goat Law Offices” involved two Vikings purchasing three goats to be office paper shredders.
The McDonald’s television commercial goat in 2012: In cartoon rendition (since the target was children), a farm kid’s goat eats everything in sight, including the kid’s homework, baseball, ping pong paddle, utensils, Mom’s chair, and Dad’s hair, is given the opportunity to choose a better diet. The boy and his dad take the goat to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal, which includes fruit and dairy. The goat thinking he’s now “as strong as an ox,” takes a bite out of the Happy Meal box and bleats the brand’s song.
In 2013, Frito-Lay, Inc. a subsidiary of the PepsiCo Corporation, featured this Super Bowl XLVII goat ad for their Doritos Tortilla chips: A Dorito-eating guy purchased a Dorito-eating goat from another guy wearing a neck brace. The Dorito guy stocks his cupboard and kitchen with bags of the chips. All night long, the goat chomps, chomps, chomps, keeping him awake. So, he hides the rest of the chips in his bedroom, barricades the door, and creates a “Goat for sale” sign. When the goat finds the bare cupboard, it screams, stomps on a photo of the guy, kicks down the barricade, enters the bedroom, and kicks the door shut (PepsiCo also had a Mountain Dew goat commercial in 2013 which was pulled after cries of racism).
Discover Card, "Discover IT Screaming Goat"
In 2015, Discover Card also debuted a goat commercial at Super Bowl XLIX. An unhappy man makes a call to query a bill with a FICO score as he walks to his apartment. His ‘clone’ tech rep informs him that the score’s purpose is to help him “stay above credit and avoid surprises.” The man says he dislikes surprises and of course, opens his apartment door and screams when he sees a roomful of balloons, a screaming goat, and a Happy Birthday banner.
Sprint was the third company to debut a spokes goat TV commercial at Super Bowl XLIX. Theirs featured background music from R&B singer Usher and a Voice Over actor who tells us that when rivals AT&T and Verizon hear about Sprint’s Family Plan, they’ll scream just like the (cut to) screaming goat.
Geico Insurance Company
In Geico’s 2015 TV goat commercial, a screaming goat disrupts work in a peanut butter factory by standing on a conveyor belt and eating peanut butter out of the jars. The manager questions the employees about the responsible party. A worker points to the goat. The theme, according to the Voice Over actor, is to use a scapegoat when things go array.
Directv, "Talking Goats"
In 2015, DirecTV featured a goat-horse-companion-in-crime in a television commercial titled, “Hannah and Her Horse.” A beautiful, bikini-clad model on an equally beautiful Caribbean beach asks us the TV audience if our broadcast satellite provider offers reliable service, then tells us we don’t have to take her word but the word of her horse. Cut to a goat at water’s edge then to the horse, which uses the goat as a metaphor for the bad service DirecTV’s competitors provide.
Another goat television commercial from the DirecTV company in 2016 featured a penful of goats on a farm, a TV set on the blitz, and a girl with a rope. The girl ropes one of the goats and tells the rest of them it’s bedtime. They whine and eat the cable wire because they couldn’t find any good TV programs to watch.
In 2016 and 2017, DirecTV and some of the other corporations mentioned featured newer and different versions of their goat commercials, along with new goat commercials from brands such as Jaguar’s Land Rover Discovery SV.
Spokes Goats VS Spokes Owls
Which of these TV spokes animals do your prefer?
Now consider a recap of commercials starring popular potential owl influencers, beginning in 2015 to present day. Interestingly some of the same corporations and brands also gave us spokes goats.
Here’s Geico’s entry on the spokes owl bandwagon. One-third into the commercial, a woman asks her smug husband if he knew that some owls weren’t wise. Cut to an owl couple on a branch. The female informs her male partner that she’s having brunch with a colleague and he responds, “Who (Hoo)?” Their discussion continues as the female owl describes her friend. The male owl’s response is still “Who (Hoo)?” This owl speaks with an American accent.
If any brand should feature an owl in their television commercial, it should be Temple University since the owl is their mascot. In their commercial, the Voice Over actor asks, “What makes a Temple Owl?” Cut to Stella the school’s great-horned owl mascot as the actor sings her praises, gives us a tour of the university’s home city, what courses are offered, and possible career outcomes.
The Simply Orange juice commercial gave us a “factory” tour with a heavily-laden orange tree labeled “the Plant,” the oranges and blossoms on the tree labeled the “workers,” the sun labeled “upper management,” and the bottle of orange juice labeled the “end product.” The hooting owl at the end of the commercial was tagged “the night watchman.”
WGU, "Just Listen to the Bird"
Western Governors University (WGU)
Western Governors University started in 2015 with the female half of a couple having problems sleeping because she’s trying to figure out how to return to college. The owl, perched at the end of her bed, shows her how easily WGU can solve her problem. Her husband tells her to “listen to the bird.”
Other TV ads by WGU were titled “Wisdom,” “Knowledge,” and “Joke.” In the first two, there were two different species of spokes owls. The larger one declares himself the university’s ‘official spokes owl’ and uses his so-called “gift of wisdom” to inform us dummies (and the smaller owl) about the college’s courses. The smaller owl wanting to prove he’s equally skilled, turns his head 360 degrees and asks if those wise graduates of WGU can do that.
In “Knowledge” the smaller owl looks up from his study of Anthropology of Owl Wisdom when he realizes its futility. The book falls and reveals a cache of snacks around him.
In “Joke” the “official spokes owl” is now on an office divider as he speaks with a man in a cubicle about how easy it is to earn a degree from WGU.
America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses
America’s Best owl is bespectacled. One of his television ads shows him on a car as a bespectacled man with groceries approaches. The owl tells the man he paid too much for his glasses. The man, staring at the owl asks, “Who (Hoo)?”
In another commercial, the spokes owl is perched on a bespectacled umpire’s chair during a tennis match. The banter goes back and forth as are their heads. The owl feeds the umpire the same “paid too much for glasses” line, while the players grunt in the background. The owl then concludes that the players sound like birds.
In a third TV commercial, the bespectacled owl is perched on a cable line, talking to a bespectacled lineman. Same lines are spoken, including the “Who (Hoo)?” by the lineman, but this time the owl also tells him that cable costs too much. The lineman says it’s not his department.
In mid-2018, America’s Best had yet another commercial with their bespectacled spokes owl character wearing headphones.
Xyzal Allergy 24HR
Sansofi Consumer Healthcore’s Xyzal TV commercial spotlights the monocle spokes owl reading a newspaper with an ad for the allergy med. He enlarges parts of the ad with his monocle and reads them aloud.
In another commercial, the owl dons a bow-tie and blue jacket and stand on a chair to inform the TV audience about Xyzal’s 24-hour benefits.
TripAdvisor.com TV ads begin with the sketch of an owl’s face. Cut to the real spokes owl in a bathrobe with a TripAdvisor embroidered monogram. There’s a shoot of “Hoo!” before the owl, working out on a treadmill, begins its spiel about the advantages of using the TripAdvisor’s website.
Another commercial featured the owl on a bed. And another has the owl being measured for perhaps a new bathrobe. A fourth TV commercial shows the spokes owl receiving what I’m guessing is the new bathrobe.
The latest one I’ve seen in mid-2018 features the robed owl paddling. All of the TripAdvisor spokes owl commercials end with wink from the sketch owl face and a Voice Over hoot.
What Will be Television’s Next Popular Spokes Animal?
There you have it. Television spokes goats to television spokes owls. We humans love to talk about our desire for individuality and independence. But when we consider television programming, we seem to prefer conformity or perhaps that’s the thinking of the producers. Everything must be pigeon (no bird pun intended)-holed for public acceptance. If a goat in a TV ad is a hit, then every other TV ad must feature a leading goat character. If the audience favors a new aristocratic owl lead character in a commercial, or a sit-com, or a movie, then creativity be damned, every other commercial, sit-com, or movie will feature an aristocratic owl lead character.
So, friends, what will be the next spokes animal to explode on the television commercial scene? How about a spokes octopus?