As a Brit living with an American husband, I stumble across these things almost every day - usually in the midst of, or because of, some light-hearted marital dispute. The plus side of our cultural misunderstandings is learning useless new nuggets of information… Which I can share with you here.
Which Bunny Booster?It's that time of year when TV commercials gain seasonal relevance. In the UK it's perfume adverts and supermarkets, and in the USA it's anything which could possibly have a vague link to Christmas - such as batteries for all those Christmas lights and annoying kids' toys.
Mark and I once watched a typical UK commercial for Duracell batteries, with pink bunny and all. Mark found it far more entertaining than anyone should find a battery advert.
Mark: Ha ha ha! Don't you get it? It's funny because they're making a play on the Energizer bunny.
Me: The what? That's the Duracell bunny. It's a thing.
Mark: No, it's the Energizer bunny, Duracell are copying them.
Me: Uh, it's always been the Duracell bunny. Energizer doesn't even have a bunny.
Mark: You're wrong.
Turns out we were both wrong.
Energizer does have a bunny.
But Duracell didn't copy it, Energizer did.
And you might never see the Duracell bunny in the USA.
Duracell started the rabbit battery thing in 1973.
Energizer did a blatant tongue-firmly-in-cheek copy in 1989.
The edgy Energizer bunny gained far more traction in the USA than the cutesy Duracell one. It didn't initially work out well though. Duracell outsold Energizer as people associated "pink bunny" with "Duracell batteries". Oops.
That was until Duracell's trademark expired in the USA, and Energizer snapped up the bunny booster trademark. The Duracell bunny was chased out of North America and went into hiding in the Old World.
So this is why the phrase "Duracell bunny" is ingrained into my cultural subconscious to mean something that just keeps on going, but for Mark and other Americans it's the phrase "Energizer bunny". Mark insists the Energizer bunny is much better, but the traditional cuddly qualities of the Duracell counterpart are much more appealing to me. I detect a bit of cultural bias towards our own bunnies, as it were!
I think that demonstrates in part how pervasive cutesy commercial icons can become. We grow up with them, and they become part of our cultural identity.
Over the past few years the UK has been dominated by Russian meerkat insurance peddlers. They've become so popular that they sell plush toys, they sponsor one of the UK's highest rated prime time shows, and a Scottish aquarium proudly advertises a mob of meerkats amongst their stingray and starfish.
I thought I'd have a hard time explaining to my mother-in-law why Russian meerkats sell car insurance. But she instantly fell in love with them, proclaiming her desire for a meerkat plush. The site doesn't operate in the USA though, which is a missed opportunity.
I realized there was no explanation needed. Then the same thing happened to me in Macy's at Thanksgiving. My mum and I saw a rather charming pyramid of plush ducks that yelled like an angry Philadelphian when squeezed. We had no clue what they were, so we bought two.
On the train back a woman asked if she could squeeze our Aflac ducks. We happily obliged and she thanked me graciously as the duck yelled AFLAAAC.
Later during the Thanksgiving parade we saw the same duck trundling above the streets of New York. A commercial followed, explaining the good work that Aflac does. Later again I saw this bizarre commercial, where the Aflac Duck raps in a battle against a pigeon.
It turns out the Aflac Duck is a seasonal thing. I didn't know. I didn't need to know. I already loved it.
We love our commercial cultural icons. It's a universal matter of forming a strange cultural identity. Just ask the Japanese, who seem to have an anthropomorphic character for everything.