A couple days ago, my bestest blogging buddy Merby wrote a post that invoked the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” Now, I know a lot of older music as well as many musicians who predate my time, but Peggy Lee is not someone who is exactly a known entity to me. In fact, when I got to the video of the song Merby posted, a voice inside my head said in a befuddled tone, “Who in the hell is Peggy Lee?”
Wait, where the heck did that come from? Oh, I remember now! My favorite of the many ads Lee’s jeans did featuring iconic mascot Buddy Lee in the late 90’s! Inexplicably, the ad does not appear to be on YouTube, but here is a link to the ad on the website Tvspots.tv:
The 1999 ad features noted blues singer Bobby Womack reminiscing about Buddy Lee, and how big he was back in the day. Buddy Lee is then shown in scenes made to look like vintage shots from the mid-20th century as Womack continues to brag about how popular Buddy was. We then find out Womack thought the interviewer had asked about fellow blues legend Buddy Guy, and he quips, “Who in the hell is Buddy Lee?”
And thus how I got from Peggy Lee to Buddy Lee, and why I am dedicating this week’s Retro Ad Tuesday post to the world’s smallest blue jeans model, Buddy Lee.
Lee’s kicked off the Buddy Lee ad campaign in 1998 as a way to advertise their new line of Dungarees jeans. Buddy Lee was a 14 inch tall doll who never spoke or moved while on camera, but still managed to star in a lot of commercials for Lee’s Dungarees from 1998 through the mid 2000’s. Originally dubbed a “Man of Action”, Buddy often appeared in dangerous actions scenes where he’d get caught up in car explosions, tornadoes, and airplane crashes. Buddy would always be found later relatively intact, and someone would comment on the durability of his jeans. Yeah, don’t mind my third degree burns and head trauma… my jeans are just totally sick, aren’t they? You can’t bust ’em!
After the initial Man of Action series, Lee’s switched gears in 1999 and had celebrities talking about how awesome Buddy Lee was in interviews. This is the campaign the above Bobby Womack ad comes from, and since I couldn’t embed that ad in this post, here’s another great one from the same time featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar:
Lee’s continued their trend of featuring a brand new Buddy Lee campaign in succeeding years. 2000 saw a trio of Street Fighter/Mortal Combat like ads with Buddy Lee taking on some outrageous tough guy, like Roy. Then 2001 saw the musical “I wanna be like Buddy Lee” ads with a Johnny Cash-like song playing in the background. Here is the best ad of that bunch. Many more new Buddy Lee ad series came about in the next few years that only further diluted Buddy’s advertising persona. This TV ad ADD displayed by Lee’s seemed to put a damper on the legacy of the Buddy Lee ads, most of which were quite unexpectedly funny in the same vein as the Miller Lite Dick ads that were running at the same time., but which our memories can’t quite pin down because there were so many different twists on the Buddy Lee gimmick and only a few ads in each set. No wonder Bobby Womack was so confused when asked about him…
Here’s something fascinating about Buddy Lee that I didn’t learn until doing the research on this post… he’s almost 100 years old!
According to his Wikipedia page, Buddy Lee began life as a miniature mannequin that was used in stores as far back as 1920 to model doll-sized versions of Lee’s jeans. Lee’s soon began to market the dolls on their own since the Buddy Lee displays were popular with customers. Buddy Lee dolls were produced up until 1962, and then the boyish little freak with the jeans that can’t be busted didn’t emerge in the public eye again until he was revived for the Dungarees ads in the 90’s. Buddy Lee became an advertising icon to a generation who had no idea he had been entertaining their grandparents when they were in their youth!
So this week The Nest salutes a true advertising hero who always showed up to save the day without putting so much as a tear in his designer jeans. Here’s to Buddy Lee for persevering through violent crashes, extreme fighting, exploding pianos, and no real sense of direction with his ad campaigns to come back from the dead and be relevant again. Let’s put on our unbustable Lee Dungarees and be loud and proud when we declare to the world that we wanna be like Buddy Lee!