Jim Henson creations have a storied history in advertising, going back to the 1950s, when a violent proto-Kermit pitched Wilkins Coffee with 10-second TV spots.
Tappy, the latest creation from Jim Henson's Creature Studio, is similarly off-kilter in his role as a living credit-card reader at a checkout counter.
Tappy is the new voice of Softcard, an e-payment product that works at McDonald's and other major chains that now accept phone swipes as currency. Softcard needed a new mascot and some rebranding after changing its name from Isis, an unfortunate name since being co-opted by the infamous terror state.
Tappy is a bit out there as a concept, turning a boring inanimate object into a somewhat obnoxious little critter, but that's what the Henson team has done for decades, building characters for brands to support their more artful Muppet projects. In fact there’s a roster of corporate mascots that come from The Jim Henson Co. that you might not know are basically cousins to Kermit, Oscar and Big Bird. For Instance, Snuggle bear is part muppet and so is Jack in the Box’s oversize snowman.
Here's a look at the some of the characters made by Jim Henson's Creature Studio for commercials and video marketing:
In a history of oddities, Tappy stands out among the Henson creations for sheer adsurdity. He's a credit-card reading machine with teeth. We could learn to love him, maybe, on a long enough timeline.
Mel the MilkBite is part dairy, part granola bar and totally confused. He's a character with an identity crisis, pondering, "What am I?"
Life, Pacific Blue Cross
Life is a Muppet in the classic sense, and he promoted insurance for Pacific Blue Cross. In the commercials, he bit people in the butt, symbolizing unexpected events like dental emergencies.
Polar Bear, Coca-Cola
The Coca-Cola polar bear, which debuted in commercials in 1993, is a classic, and Jim Henson’s Creature Studio brought him to life for appearances with the public.
Puppet Jack, Jack in the Box
Puppet Jack has very similar mannerisms to Kermit, like when he throws his hands in the air and freaks out. A true pitchman who knows where to find a receptive audience, he shows up on couches to educate stoners about fast-food deals.
Great Chocolate Factory Mystery Experience in 4D, Hershey's
Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery Experience is an interactive show featuring talking candy bars at Hershey’s HQ in Pennsylvania. Henson made the digital puppets for the experience.
Lenny, Lending Tree
Lenny could be brothers with Kermit, given he's so obviously Muppet and green. He basically just follows around a guy named Len, trying to talk him out of taking a loan from a bank.
Fairy-tale characters, Reading Is Fundamental
The literacy effort Reading Is Fundamental featured puppets alongside famous cartoon characters for this ad inspiring adults to read to children.
Rico, Air New Zealand
Rico was a rather NSFW spokesppupet whose South American accent and wordplay raised eyebrows, such as when he praised "a nice Kiwi beach." He was best known for the viral marketing collaborations with edgy celebrities, including Snoop Dogg and Lindsay Lohan.
Snuggle Bear, Snuggle
Snuggle the fabric softener bear has deep Muppet roots. The bear debuted in 1983, a creation of Kermit Love (not related to the frog), who also made Big Bird.