Are You Really as Lonely as They Say?

Do you have a photo of yourself with The Maytag Man like this mystery BrandSource member taken in 1997? 
You may want to dig it out for an upcoming Ol’ Lonely photo contest, and send it to communications@avb.net
Clue: The mystery member pictured went to the same college in Ohio as Gordon Jump, the Maytag Man portrayed here.

By Rich Lindblom, YSN

If you were ever out in a company vehicle that had a Maytag logo on it somewhere, doing deliveries or service in the 1970s or ’80s, you no doubt heard that question. 

I know I heard it all the time, and sometimes a half dozen or more times a day in the summer, when the truck windows were rolled down.  All I could do was pretend to laugh and act like I hadn’t just heard the same comment at the last stoplight.  It was enough to drive a 17-year-old kid nuts.

But as I grew older and, at least in theory, wiser, I realized, “Wow, what a great advertising campaign!” We should all be so lucky to create a campaign that brilliant.  In fact, it was so effective that Ol’ Lonely went on to become the longest running real-life advertising character in television history, and “The Maytag Man” campaign was lauded as one of the ten most recognizable in advertising history.  

Veteran character actor Jesse White starred in the very first commercial in 1967 and from there Ol’ Lonely took on a life of its own.  White starred in dozens of nationally televised spots and made promotional appearances all around the country.  But after 21 hugely successful (and reportedly expensive) years in the role, he retired in 1988.  Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet Jesse White, but my father did and always said he had a pretty colorful sense of humor.

White was replaced in 1989 by Gordon Jump, a highly recognizable comic actor who had starred as Mr. Carlson (“The Big Guy”) on TV’s WKRP in Cincinnati and as Chief of Police Tinkler on Soap.  Arounnd this time Maytag’s ad agency also added a basset hound named Newton to keep Ol’ Lonely company.  Jump continued in that role until 2003 when he retired for health reasons.

I had the good fortune of meeting Jump on several occasions, and he was both friendly and quite funny.  He also had the uncanny ability to contort his face into all different expressions during photo ops.  But my best memory was when I asked him about a particular scene on “Soap.”  He took five minutes in the middle of a photo and autograph-signing session to describe exactly how the scene went down and explained how he actually ad-libbed the line that I was inquiring about, and that the directors liked it so much they kept it in the final cut.  So, if you remember waiting in a really long line for his autograph in Newton, Iowa, back around 2000, it may have been my fault. Sorry.

In 2001, Ol’ Lonely got some more company, with actor Mark Devine added to the now iconic advertising campaign as an apprentice. The pair appeared together until 2003, when Jump’s failing health and eventual passing led to the casting of another veteran TV character actor, Hardy Rawls, in the repairman’s role.  But Rawls’ time as Ol’ Lonely was short lived, an neither his nor Devine’s contracts were renewed in 2006.

Looking to go in a different direction, Maytag’s ad agency held a nationwide talent hunt for a younger, more active repairman, and in 2007 Clay Jackson, an unknown real estate broker from Virginia, donned the blue uniform. 

I met Jackson too, this time at a BrandSource convention, and have a somewhat amusing memory of the encounter. While waiting in line for an autographed photo to display in my store, an elderly gentleman whizzed by on a motorized wheelchair. Jackson looked over to him as he had all the other passersby and nonchalantly said, “Hi gramps!” Everyone around seemed a bit taken back by that seemingly rude remark. But a minute later the same guy came rolling back and parked his wheelchair right by the autograph booth. Jackson then stopped what he was doing and said, “Hey everyone, this is my grandpa, he came with me to Las Vegas.”

One little-known tidbit about the talent search was that NFL quarterback and legendary ironman Peyton Manning’s backup, Jim Sorgi of the Indianapolis Colts, actually auditioned for the part, claiming he had nothing else to do since Manning never missed a start. I’m not sure whose idea that was, but it was a smart piece of cross-promotion, if you ask me.  

In 2014 the brand re-introduced “The Maytag Man,” with actor Colin Ferguson representing the human embodiment of Maytag appliances and the tangible and intangible qualities that drive their dependability. He turns Maytag dependability into something human and emotional, which lets people connect with the brand on a much deeper level.  With the Maytag Man as the appliance, the brand has been able to deliver clever and attention-getting campaigns that stand out from other white-goods advertising.   

The Maytag Man certainly has changed over the years, but any way you look at it, it sure has been a nice run for him.  If only I looked that good after fifty years in the appliance business!

Have a photo of yourself with The Maytag Man? YSN will soon be announcing an Ol’ Lonely photo sweepstakes, so dust off those photo albums and find that faded shot of you and Colin, Clay, Gordon or Have a photo of yourself with The Maytag Man? You may want to find that faded shot of you, Colin, Clay, Gordon or Jesse for an upcoming Ol’ Lonely photo contest. Please email it to: communications@avb.net.

It’s always gratifying when someone reaches out to me after reading one of my articles because it struck a particular chord with them. So if you have a question or comment (good or bad) about something I wrote about, please contact me at egvrich@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.