With Cultish Flair, Fallon Revives Icon Buddy Lee For Lee Dungarees

Fallon McElligott, the agency that introduced the world to “advertising superstar Dick” for Miller Brewing, is resurrecting America’s “premier spokesdoll, Buddy Lee,” in its new campaign for Lee Apparel Co.
The Buddy Lee character–played in the new ads by an actual promotional doll the Merriam, Kan.-based jeans maker used in the 1920s–is the centerpiece of an estimated $30 million campaign for Lee Dungarees. The new subbrand of jeans is intended to attract 17- to 22-year-olds to the Lee brand.
The unusual campaign began appropriately: A mock documentary about Buddy aired at 3:55 a.m. on Comedy Central last Friday. The six-minute short farcically traces the history of Buddy Lee, suggesting he had been a premier idol in the 1920s and ’30s but now lives in a miniature mobile home in California. The short includes interviews with Buddy’s agent and third wife, a former starlet.
In June, ads teasing a supposed new film, Buddy Lee–Man of Action, break on a wider range of cable networks including MTV and ESPN. These spots, which don’t overtly tout Lee Dungarees, will be complemented with print and outdoor ads encouraging people to tune in to the Buddy Lee story.
The campaign hits full swing in July, with ads showing scenes from the make-believe action film. In the ads, the Buddy Lee doll/character performs heroic feats that come to humorous ends (he’s thrust through a tree when a tornado hits in one), but his Lee Dungarees emerge unscathed. The spots conclude with the campaign’s tagline, “Can’t bust ’em.” They will air on cable and Fox.
Full-page print ads will appear in fashion and music magazines such as Details, Jane and Spin.
“Can’t bust ’em” was the name of a one-time Lee apparel line, said Bruce Tait, Fallon group planning director. By resurrecting an icon, the campaign intends to create a sense of heritage and authenticity for the younger set, Tait said.
But the campaign is also intended to make Buddy a cult figure, he said in explaining the late night mini-movie and recent appearances of Buddy Lee posters in major cities.