A suitable boy

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He started life as a doodle but certainly gets around! Read about how Fido Dido, 7 Up's brand icon, came into this world.

JOANNA FERRONE, the creator of Fido, the 7 Up brand icon
JOANNA FERRONE, the creator of Fido, the 7 Up brand icon

Debdatta Das

There are cartoon characters and there are other animated characters. But this one is special. He's cool, he's funny, he's chilled out, he's 22 and very famous. He is a thin, gawky guy with eight upright squiggles for hair, and a triangle for a face. He began his career as an illustration on a paper napkin but today is found in the company of the likes of Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat. Well, you must have guessed by now he's Fido Dido, the iconic brand ambassador of 7 Up, PepsiCo's lemon-flavoured drink.

What most people don't know is that he was a star even before he signed on the dotted line to become the face of 7 Up. And just like any other successful man, he too has a woman to thank for his fame and stardom. BrandLine recently caught up with Joanna Ferrone, the creator, the brain and the voice of Fido. In an extremely candid conversation, she spoke about the birth and the rise of Fido's character, and how her life has come to revolve around him ever since that inspired evening of 1985.

How did it all begin?Well, it was in 1985. Like any other day, we, my friend Sue Rose and I, had met up for a drink after work. At such meetings, we generally discussed life; how it felt to be a young adult in a city (New York) of unique people, who were all so different, but with whom everyone co-existed. That day, Sue, started drawing a face, a triangle, eight vertical lines for hair and two dots for eyes, on a paper napkin. He looked like a lot of fun and I thought I would make him my messenger to air my views. Sue thought I was crazy. But I had made up my mind. While on my way to work the next day, the name Fido Dido just popped into my mind and it seemed to fit the character on the paper napkin perfectly.

What did you want to express? What prompted you to use Fido as your spokesperson?Actually, making Fido my spokesperson was to target a certain compassion for my fellow men, who were all so cool and nice, just like Fido. In the year 1985, there were a lot of things in the US that I wanted to talk about. There were plenty of prejudices, racial, religious and ethnic, to a certain extent, as well. Then there was also class prejudice. Fido was created to say `You are what you are, and what you are is ok.' That's why his philosophy suits his attitude and also what both he and me want to say perfectly.

His philosophy is `Fido is for Fido. Fido is against no one. Fido is youth. Fido has no age. Fido sees everything. Fido judges nothing. Fido is innocent. Fido is powerful. Fido comes from the past. Fido is the future.'

In the initial years, before PepsiCo approached you, how did you go about spreading your message through Fido? What was his commercial worth then?When I started off, I never intended to make money or a career out of him. But from what I reckon, after all the campaigns and product endorsements, Fido must have easily been worth around a million dollars. As far as spreading messages is concerned, initially I used to ride a bicycle to shops to buy plain t-shirts and then further ride to other shops to get Fido and a slogan printed on the tees.

The big break, though, came when Patricia Fields, a successful apparel designer, started printing him and his cool slogans on her t-shirts. After that hordes of other activities followed, like getting him on bags, stationery, watches, colognes, toothpaste, just about everything imaginable. A small book containing Fido and his one-line philosophies was also published. In fact, Fido had also made his way to Europe at that point of time, though in a very small way.

When did PepsiCo approach you? How would you describe your association with the company since then?PepsiCo first approached me sometime in 1988. Their ad agency was looking for a contemporary mascot for their youthful lemon fizz drink, 7 Up. They wanted a cool and relatable character, and somehow in Fido they found all the graphic and spiritual attributes for brand association. PepsiCo's offer was a big opportunity for us. Fido could now act and show his style as an animated form. I had even put very strong creative approval rights (conditions) for the slogan and the way they used Fido in their campaigns. I gave all the slogans that were and still are used in the campaigns. Initially, I signed a contract only for five years, but the respect they showed for him, by treating him as just not any animated character, but as the company's spokes-character, has made me continue this relationship till date.

How has Fido evolved over the past two decades? Did you ever feel your life was being over-shadowed by his immense popularity?Like any other character, Fido too has gone through various changes, but only in terms of physical appearance; his philosophy remains unchanged. Looks-wise, he will now be wearing longer shorts, thereby giving his character a modern, young-adult feel. Even the campaigns have become cooler and modern in outlook, what with him now being represented in a three-dimensional form hanging around with pretty Bollywood actresses. Over the years, apart from his endorsing 7 Up, he has also been actively participating in various charitable events through associations with organisations like Amnesty International, American Cancer Society and UNICEF, spreading his philosophy. As far as my life is concerned, yes, I do work and travel a lot because of him. I sometimes do feel like my life is not mine. However, it's challenging and very rewarding to say the least. It's like raising a child. It makes him do real good, for a world that needs it.

What's the one thing you would want to tell the world through Fido, keeping in mind the violence and strife today?

Well, the one thing I really want Fido to tell people is a slogan that I saw on a 7 Up bottle in Goa `Life is short. Live it up!'

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 8, 2007)
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