Thursday, February 19, 2009

What was the Lee Jeans Mascot?

By Charlie Reese

Buddy Lee

Sometimes, a promotional character captures the imagination of the public. So it was with Buddy Lee, the mascot and marketing tool of the Lee Jeans Corporation. The doll was used between 1920 and 1962 and he represented the hard working American man with his trademark checked shirt and receding hairline. The idea was to promote the jeans as a durable item and the slogan was 'Can't Bust 'Em'.

The doll was first used as a model for the Lee merchandise in store window displays. He took various roles, such as a railroad worker or cowboy, furthering his image as an everyday sort of guy doing the kind of jobs that the jeans could cope with. In 1949, a female equivalent came on the scene, called Betty Lee. Despite, Buddy Lee being the second best selling doll in the United States by 1962, the campaign was discontinued due to lack of profit.

The cult following and iconic status really started when Buddy Lee made a remarkable comeback in 1998. Lee Jeans used him again and he featured on posters and TV advertisements to promote the dungarees line. A folk song was introduced for the theme song in the commercial.

Buddy Lee was dubbed 'a man of action'; an ironic title as he didn't do anything but was just there. The new advertisement showed him stood next to a cop, who goes out to catch a bad guy. A special commercial was shot following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Buddy makes a plea for blood donations on behalf of the American Red Cross.

The dungarees campaign finished but there is still a lot of interest in Buddy Lee. There is even a mockumentary, depicting his life and times, called The Buddy Lee Story. It tells of Buddy's humble roots and how he made the big time and then went into obscurity. He is found to still be alive and living in California but the former star turns down an interview. His friends, colleagues and agent are interviewed however. There is even a third wife, who remembers him with affection, describing him as a ladies man!

The character has taken on a life of his own, whether he is currently involved in Lee Jeans promotions or not. He has become bigger than that, even having his own Buddy Lee for President 2008 campaign. This involves the selling of campaign items, such as bumper stickers, T-shirts, posters, coasters and tote bags. There is even an imitation Andy Warhol type portrait, making Buddy a feted celebrity indeed. - 16651

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