America’s Favorite Pantsless Peanut Gets Rebranded (Our 200th Post!)

Editor’s note: We’re in Las Vegas this week for the NAI National Workshop—and to celebrate our 200th post! (Though if you don’t count the posts about baseball and our family vacations, this is only our 57th post.) On with the drivel!

I was listening to a podcast of Into the Night with Tony Bruno last week as I was biking home from work in the dark, cold, Colorado night—have I mentioned we’re in Las Vegas this week?—and I was shocked to learn that Mr. Peanut has a voice. Mr. Peanut was not a guest on the show, but he has been in the news recently because for the first time since his debut in 1916, he has a voice—not to mention a stylin’ smoking jacket.

Mr. Peanut is now voiced by Robert Downey, Jr., a natural follow-up to his important roles in the Iron Man movies and Weird Science. The Downey-voiced Mr. Peanut—the result of a $35 million campaign orchestrated by an advertising firm called Being—was unveiled on the Planters Facebook page on November 9 in a commercial that I found pretty funny (embedded above).

Mr. Peanut has undergone numerous redesigns since 1916, which you can see on the Planters website. Even the previous most-current iteration of Mr. Peanut, which was likely created using a vector-art computer program like Adobe Illustrator, had an old-fashioned feel about it. The new version still features a monocle and top hat, but the old-fashioned feel has been replaced by newfangled 3D computerized realism. The cadmium yellow shell tone we’ve known of late has been replaced with a color that better represents actual peanuts.

And that’s not all: Mr. Peanut has a sidekick named Benson, who, to quote an article from reputable source The New York Times, has “one nut in his shell rather than two.”

And while the thin mustache of Mr. Peanut’s early days has been gone for a long time, to me, there’s been one constant throughout the decades: He’s a creepy, leering legume with no pants. I know they say he’s wearing pants, but they look like leggings at best to me. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of where pants go, and I don’t see any pants on Mr. Peanut. (Let’s put it like this: If Shea shows up for our preworkshop training session tomorrow dressed like Mr. Peanut, I will tell him that he does not have pants on and should probably change.)

That said, the best mascot ever is the Phillie Phanatic, and he also doesn’t wear pants. (And I’m not saying he’s the best just because of my rooting interests. It’s a documented fact.)

I’m actually surprised by the lack of outrage over the Mr. Peanut redesign, not because it’s a bad redesign (which it is not; I think the use of humor and a celebrity voice is a good idea for a brand that most people had sort of forgotten about), but because there’s almost always outrage when anything with nostalgic value is redesigned.

I’m also surprised that there’s no outrage over the fact that the Mr. Peanut depicted in the new commercials is an anthropomorphized cannibal—serving peanuts at his own party. That’s weird, right?

For interpreters and designers, it’s important not to take your brand for granted. If your logo, publications, websites, or other media are out of date, it reflects poorly on your organization. If you’re the person responsible for that identity, it’s up to you to make the change. Take note, though, that if you decide that a change is in order, you’ll surely encounter individuals who have an emotional connection to the old identity or simply prefer the previous look. If you can’t defend the changes you make to these individuals, then perhaps they’re bad changes—or changes weren’t necessary to begin with. (If you can defend the changes and people keep hounding you, it means they don’t like you as a person.)

I don’t think Mr. Peanut was out of date, but the redesign was implemented to reinvigorate the brand and stay with (or slightly ahead) of the times. Creepy pantsless cannibal or not, people love Mr. Peanut, and Planters has done a good job of getting him back into the pop culture discussion.