When ad campaigns/characters morph way beyond the original intent

I am struggling to think of examples of this - help?

What are some examples of ad campaigns where a character or concept is introduced that then takes on a life of its own until the original character or campaign is no longer even present? Someone was talking about the Charmin ass-bears, how they were introduced as a side gag as one part of a campaign, only to continue to take over to the point where the campaigns now exclusively focus on those bears’ children talking about their asses and TP.

What are some other examples of this phenomenon?

The GEICO cavemen ended up spawning an ill-fated TV series.

GEICO is insane with this. The gecko, as you may recall, originally started as just a lizard who was annoyed that people kept confusing him with GEICO. That was the whole joke: “GEICO” sorta sounds like “gecko”. However many years later, he’s like the friggin’ CEO of the company or something.

The GEICO Pig (who has a name I refuse to look up) was a one-shot joke with people annoyed that this swine wouldn’t stop yelling “wheeee!” on the ride home which again spun into a bunch of ads. Thankfully, I think that’s been laid to rest.

Capitol One’s viking marauders were originally the manifestation of other credit cards raping and pillaging your wallet. You’d pull out some other card and – bam! – you were sacked and pillaged by high interest rates and other unreasonable terms. Now they’re just some dopey dudes who get into comical trouble and actually use Capitol One credit cards.

Erin Esurance was completely destroyed by Rule 34.

Progressive Flo.

C.W. McCall started as a character in a bread commercial and ended up performing a #1 hit single.

Likewise, there’s Ernest P. Worrell, whose commercials for Taco John’s turned into a successful series of films.

I swear I saw Worrell advertising cars at one time.

In anime Digi Charat and Hatsuni Miko were originally mascots.

The California Raisins got a TV special and toy line.

Yeah, I believe he started as a car dealership spokesmen.
And he was still used as such years after his death. It was creepy. Definitely in print ads, but I swear I saw this chain end commercials with an old clip of him saying “Know-what-I-mean?” Eventually they switched to a CG animated version.

The Energizer Bunny, remember? I think maybe Duracell had a commercial where they had a bunch of bunny toys and their batteries kept going the longest, and all the toys had little snare drums, and then Energizer did a parody of that commercial where they came in with this big bunny with a big bass drum. Then it took on a life of its own.

The granddaddy of them all is Paul Bunyan, who started in an ad campaign.

The best example I can think of is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which began as a promotion for Montgomery Ward.

The Wikipedia page for Ernest P. Worrell says that the character was used for a lot of local ad campaigns and that Coke, Taco John’s, and Chex were the only national campaigns. I may be misremembering but I thought he did some spots for the local gas or electric utility at one time.

Which is maybe a good question for another thread - any other spokesperson characters that have been used for more than one client?

Rowlf debuted on a Purina commercial; his later appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show paved the way for the success of the Muppets.

And Japan also brings us Domo-kun, a TV station mascot whose entire “career” on American merchandise seems to be predicated on becoming a nonsequitor meme before memes were a thing. And now just being famous for being famous, like a brown, rectangular, woolly Kardashian.

In the US, the character of Ernest P. Worrell was originally an advertising character. He was created by an ad agency, and used in ads for various local businesses (and a few national ones) before he got a TV show.

And if that wasn’t enough, he also moonlights as a pitchman for Helzberg diamond engagement rings. Granted, the geico commercials always seemed to be only tangentially related to the product they were actually selling, at best, but with the Helzberg ads the goal actually appears to be “create as much brand confusion as possible”.

Johnny English. First in adverts for something or other, then two films.

It’s a definite strategy with GEICO. They always have a couple of different ad campaigns running concurrently, and will usually premiere a new theme / character once or twice a year. If the new one takes off (i.e., becomes popular in social media), they run with it, and if it doesn’t, they let that campaign run its course and replace it with a new one.

The Kia commercials featuring hamsters. The point of the first one was that everyone else was just a hamster stuck in a wheel, while they drive by in a Kia. Then it just turned into a bunch of hamsters dancing for no reason.

Off topic, but they must spend an insane amount of money on their ads; I suspect it’s because of them that other insurance companies run pricey ad campaigns like the “Mayhem” one. I have never, ever gotten a competitive price quote from Geico, which is sad because I’m a government employee.