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Chew On This

Playing with food for fun and profit.

Sorry, Charlie, you've got company. Although there's no denying the long-standing popularity of StarKist's spokes-tuna, he's not the only fish in the sea as far as edible mascots go. Just take a gander -- if you dare--at those Slim Jim TV spots with a man running amok in a beef jerky costume.

"It's a character people are supposed to identify with and at the same time [want to] eat," observes Paul Lukas, author of Inconspicuous Consumption: An Obsessive Look at the Stuff We Take for Granted, From the Everyday to the Obscure (Crown). "They're quite a trip, those ads."

That they are. Beef jerky, however, isn't the only food advertisers are messing around with. Other recent chewables in motion include M&Ms, animal crackers, popcorn kernels and Foster Farms' "impostor" chickens.

But isn't it a little, uh, unsettling to put a happy face on edibles? "[Charlie the Tuna] does seem to have this odd suicidal obsession with trying to end up in your tuna casserole," agrees Lukas. Nonetheless, entrepreneurs thinking of promoting their foods with a catchy character should know that consumers appear able to disassociate the personality from the product--particularly if the personalities in question don't seem plate-bound themselves. "You've probably figured out by now that [Charlie] isn't going to make it into that can of tuna," Lukas points out. Hey, that's good news, Charlie.

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This article was originally published in the February 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Chew On This.

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