Goodby Brings Back Joe Isuzu

After an 11-year hiatus, advertising icon Joe Isuzu is returning to television—this time to hype the automaker’s new sport utility vehicle, the Axiom.

A campaign breaking this week from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners marks the return of an ad figure almost as well-known as Mr. Whipple. The campaign will launch with a single spot and then expand, agency executives said—meaning Joe could again become a television fixture.

The Joe Isuzu character—a smarmy salesman who makes outrageous claims about vehicles—was created by the former Della Femina McNamee, Los Angeles, in the early 1980s, but was retired after a 12-year run when the company chose to focus more on the product in its ads. Goodby in San Francisco won the business in 1992.

Creatives said the launch spot focuses on where Joe, still played by David Leisure, has been for the past decade. In the second spot, he will get back in shape to work as a pitchman.

Beginning with the third spot, due to break in late March or early April, Joe will begin to plug the Axiom. Those spots will filter information about the vehicle’s qualities through Joe’s irreverent personality.

“What the heck, they brought back Aerosmith and they kicked N Sync’s butt at the Super Bowl, so why not?” said creative director and agency partner Jeff Goodby, referring to the elaborate halftime show. “He’s an icon, and there will always be dealers asking to have him around.”

Gary Tucker, vp of marketing and product planning for the client, said Isuzu decided to bring Joe back because it needed to make a quick impression with the Axiom.

“We’re in a market crowded with new product launches, so this was the right opportunity,” he said. “Joe allows us to take the lead.”

Tucker said the car company has considered resurrecting Joe several times in recent years, but wanted to coordinate it with a product launch.

Isuzu spends $125 million annually on advertising. Billings for the new campaign were not disclosed.