The Personalities Behind Oklahoma’s Commercial Successes
Hiring a movie star to advertise their business might be beyond a company’s budgetary means, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a lasting impression. These commercial characters with local ties have done more than sell us products – they’ve become part of our collective memories.
Chad Stalcup It’s All About Branding
Chad Stalcup is Bent Over, Holding His Breath And Completely Submerged in Four Feet of Lake Hefner. He’s Trying to Stay Perfectly Still. It’s Murky, Super Cold, Silent. One More Thing He’s Focusing on: Don’t Drop The 10-Pound, Whole Frozen Catfish in His Hands.
Mentally calculating a 30-second wait, Stalcup bolts through the surface in a spray of water … and the transformation begins.
As if in a riverside baptism gone terribly wrong, Stalcup, the person, disappears. “Chad Stevens” – the car-selling wildman of Fowler Toyota – comes up roaring and born again.
This time Chad Stevens is a noodler clad in cut-off jean shorts and a hillbilly sleeveless shirt. His knees trudge up and down through the shallows as he hoists the black-and-gray channel cat. He lets loose a high-pitched holler.
“Woo! This is a honey hole down here!” he yells to his pompadour-primped “brother” on the shore. Rubbing his belly underneath a dirty white muscle shirt, the brother shouts back, “That one’s gonna be goo-oood eatin’!”
Stalcup, 46, has been entertaining Oklahomans for 12 years with his Chad Stevens character. His spoof subjects are legion: The Mathis Brothers commercials (replacing the brothers’ random use of kids with a Cabbage Patch doll); the Most Interesting Man in the World (“I normally don’t buy vehicles. When I do, I buy from Fowler Toyota”) and OSU coach Mike Gundy (“Are you kidding? Buy from me! I’m a man! I’m 40!”). The Gundy send-up was so well done it went viral and was picked up by ESPN and Comedy Central.
Born and raised in Enid, Stalcup is the successful president and executive creative director of Skyline Media Group in northwest OKC. The Emmy-winning firm’s clients have included top central Oklahoma businesses and the likes of Westin Hotels, the National Automobile Dealers Association and Harley-Davidson.
Ideas about what or who to spoof can come from any of the company’s 22 employees, Stalcup said. “A lot of times it literally is a spur of the moment idea. We have all the video/film equipment here and can go shoot instantly.” Some ideas are born one day and shot the next.
Fowler Toyota holds the reins loosely on the company’s creativity, he said. On the noodling commercial, CEO Mike Fowler called him up and asked him what hillbilly handfishing had to do with selling cars. Stalcup told him, “Really nothing.” (Really: branding.) Fowler wasn’t mad. Stalcup quotes him as saying:
“We’re selling cars like you wouldn’t believe, so something’s working. Don’t change it.”
‘Damn You!’ and Other Tidbits
Stalcup loitered underwater in the noodling commercial so he’d be shot popping out of still water. Rippling waves would have been less of a surprise. “We did that over and over and over. Finally I said, ‘This is it. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ It was just disgusting.”
Corporate suits from Toyota once told him to pull an ad. He had parodied the infamous incident when former President George W. Bush ducked a shoe thrown at him. “They told me to stay away from politics and religion. ‘Do current events all you want.’”
The Mathis brothers got a kick from their parody, he said. “They loved it. They called me personally and asked me to send them the spot so they could put it on their Facebook.”
How do Chad Stevens and Chad Stalcup differ? “If you ask my wife, there’s no difference,” he laughs. Like Stevens, Stalcup is easygoing and funny, but serious when it comes to the quality of his company’s work and value for clients.
The company produced commercials for Channel 9 that promoted its weather coverage by showing a distraught family listening to Gary England and fearfully fleeing to shelter during a tornado. The drama was so high it drew the attention of Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Leading his show with the clip, Stewart remarked, “Here’s why I’m freaked out. Some local television station in Oklahoma has way better production values than my show. Damn you!”
Peter Grosz In the Driver’s Seat for Sonic
As The Pitchmen For Oklahoma’s Own (And The Nation’s Largest) Drive-in Chain, Improv Actors Peter Grosz And T.J. Jagodowski Seem to be From Anywhere And Nowhere.
Their Sonic-loving characters are the “everyguys” of cherry limeades and footlong cheese coneys. Although they’re not local, Oklahoma City-based Sonic Drive-In definitely is – and that’s enough to make them feel right at home on our TV screens.
Jagodowski’s (passenger seat) movie credits include “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and he performs regularly at iO Theater in Chicago. Grosz (driver’s seat) is a New Yorker and two-time Emmy-winning writer for his work on “The Colbert Report.” His acting credits include “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Veep.”
Grosz, 39, graciously stepped away from the steering wheel to answer a few questions from Slice about working for a restaurant empire that sells enough footlong quarter-pound coneys in a single year to border the 48 contiguous states (says Sonic – we haven’t lined them up ourselves).
What’s your favorite menu item and why?
I like the popcorn chicken – for several reasons. First, they’re fried. Second, I like any food that has the name of another food in it – same reason I like grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes and popcorn chicken tomatoes. Third, they’re fried.
It seems like you’re always driving and T.J. is the passenger, right? What’s up with that?
It’s a metaphor for our entire dynamic. I drive, he doesn’t. I know where I’m going, he doesn’t.
Sonic phased you out in 2010, but you went “rogue” to get your jobs back. In one of your hire-us-back videos, you promote popcorn chicken with half a dozen chickens flapping around in the car. What did you learn from that experience?
I learned that chickens are not “chicken.” They are, in fact, very aggressive. I don’t know who came up with that phrase, but it’s not based in reality at all. I also learned that when T.J. says he has a “sweet idea” that I’m going to “loooooove,” I should ask for specifics before giving him the go ahead.
What would happen if you were challenged to roller skate and deliver a tray of food?
I would decline that challenge. There are a lot more fun ways for me to break every bone in my body. But if someone did manage to get me up on roller skates, perhaps by calling me chicken (which, even though it’s inaccurate, always works on me) it would look something like that video of the Hindenburg crashing. Lots of humanity.
Besides eating them, what else can you do with tater tots?
I’m so glad you asked! Lots of things. You can juggle them, hide them in people’s shoes, put them over your eyes when you sleep, use them as your own personal currency or, my personal favorite, use them as building block-type toys to make a giant sculpture of a tater tot.
What’s the best thing about being a Sonic pitchman?
In all seriousness, spending time in a car with T.J. It’s unbelievably fun, and he’s one of my best friends, so I’m really lucky that this is my job.
If you got to pick a brand-new menu item for Sonic, what would it be?
They already have popcorn chicken, right? ’Cause I really love those. Hmm … Well, I’d really love to see more popcorning of other food items. Maybe popcorn cheeseburgers, popcorn blasts, popcorn tots. I have no idea how to make these things, but that’s for Sonic to figure out.
Bob Mills The Furniture Buyer’s Friend
You Might Want to Put Down Your TV Remote For What You’re About to Read. Ready?
Bob Mills is no longer the working man’s friend.
Don’t panic. He’s still the same tall, friendly guy with the broad brilliant smile who’s been a fixture on central Oklahoma television since the 1970s. He still appreciates it when customers fondly recall the old “working man’s friend” slogan, or the days when he sported signature sweaters.
But the OCU Oklahoma Commerce and Industry Hall of Famer knows – and loves – business. Markets and people constantly evolve, and so should a business’ image.
“Things change and your marketing changes with your merchandise,” Mills explains. “It’s not about me. It’s about the customer and serving his or her needs. I’m the same guy, but as far as being on television saying that – no, we don’t use that branding anymore.”
Today, Bob most often dons a smartly tailored suit, tie and colorful pocket square to promote the value of “companions pricing” with extras – like maybe a 32-inch TV thrown in for free.
The company’s first business model was a 30-minute weekly country & western music show featuring local musicians, with Bob as host and singer. Bob Mills Furniture started with eight employees in July 1971. The company now employs more than 400 people in six (seven later this year) stores in Oklahoma and Texas.
Mills and crew shoot the commercials every two-and-a-half weeks, most of them at 3600 W. Reno. There you can watch Bob flub a line, try again – and buy a love seat to go.
During the Thunder playoffs, Bob took to the basketball court for the “Amazing Dunk” commercial. In a red jersey with the company logo and white tennis shoes, a solo Bob dribbles like an NBA power forward to the goal, smashes in a rim-rattling dunk and hangs onto the hoop for flair. All done in one take, right?
“You must be kidding – that was a six-hour shoot!” he says. “I was a tired guy at the end of the day. Let me put it this way: I have a healthy respect for Kevin Durant.”
Pillow Talk All About Bob
He doesn’t use a teleprompter, due to less-than-perfect vision. “My commercials are basically pretty much ad-libbed because I can’t see a teleprompter. To me, it works better to deliver a sincere message of what I really want to say to the customer.”
He was a double major in music and business at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. “I got through college playing sax,” he said. “I played with a rock ‘n’ roll band with all the WKY DJs and Don Wallace (host of the local “Wallace Wildlife Show” in the ‘60s through the ‘80s) on the weekends.”
His favorite piece of furniture is a customized Sleep to Live mattress (sold at the store). “I practice what I preach. So I sleep on the prescribed bed for me.” His St. Bernard, Bentley, rests her big bones on a piece of gel foam that Bob had made for her. “She just loves it.”
Bob loves being a businessman, but he doesn’t play golf. He doesn’t have any other real hobbies, except one: “This store is my hobby. I enjoy it today more than I ever did.” Naturally, his favorite TV show is about business – “Shark Tank.” The reality show lets entrepreneurs try to woo five tough-talking tycoons into investing in their business idea. “I love the points of view those guys come up with – the way they tell ‘em, ‘That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I would never invest with you. I’m out.’ That makes it easier – when they’re just brutally honest.”
Bob exercises about 40 minutes a day. “I wake up in the morning and that’s the first thing I look forward to – exercising and doing stretches and things like that.” After that, he reads the Bible to start the day.
There’s one last surprising revelation about Bob: He doesn’t sell furniture. “We sell fashion, and we sell a promise,” Bob says. “The fashion is the style that you like, that makes you feel good, and the promise is that you’ll feel better if you enjoy your home and look forward to going home with the things around you that you really like. “That’s the big picture. The small picture is the sofa. But the big picture is enjoying your life.”
Linda Verin Off the Beaten Trak
Linda Soundtrak Burst Into Oklahoma’s TV Consciousness Like The Beast in “Jaws” Crunched Into The Deck of The Orca: She Was Loud, in Your Face And Unstoppable From The Mid-Seventies Until The Soundtrak Stores Closed in 1993.
Hyperactively flapping her wings in a yellow chick outfit, she peeped about “cheep, cheep, cheep” prices! Celebrity guest stars like wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and OU football great Lee Roy Selmon joined in on her intentionally campy antics. She was laid up “crazy sick” and delirious in a hospital bed, popping up to shout with a huge smile, “Keep your money! Have a TV!”
As her Linda Soundtrak persona, owner Linda Verin flooded central Oklahoma TV. She did remote live shots from the store during “Saturday Night Live.” She once made 14 commercials in one hour.
Today, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and is president of Ads That Work. The name fits: Her Soundtrak audio/video business spread to Texas, Kansas and Alabama.
Linda Soundtrak started out as a gimmick idea called “Mr. Soundman.” She and husband/owner Rick Clay (they’re still married) had employees try out for the role.
“But because I’m from Chicago and I can talk really fast, I could say what I needed in 30 seconds,” she said. “I got the job because I could talk faster than anyone else.”
She cajoled a Hitachi executive from Japan to fly to Oklahoma to do a commercial. He spoke in Japanese, which was translated in subtitles. In a bubble shot at the top of the screen, Verin verbally mistranslates, only talking about sale prices. At one point, the executive’s subtitles read: “Who is this lady? I don’t think she knows that I speak English.”
People thought she had clout. One person complained about a TV station that moved wrestling from 9 p.m. to 11. The caller wanted the earlier time back. “I said we really don’t have anything to do with it, but OK, I’ll mention it to the TV station.”
“Don’t you know Soundtrak … ain’t just another store, we got the hi-fis, the sounds you’re lookin’ for, we’ll bring you music, at home
or in your car, Soundtrak’s on the right track.”
The Legend of Tall Paul
Tall Paul, The Singing-Cowboy Animated Character Selling Paul Meade Insurance, Was so Ubiquitous That Blake Shelton – Grammy-Winning Country Star, Panelist on “The Voice” And Ada Native – Says Tall Paul’s Banjo And Guitar jingle Was His Favorite Growing up. He Even Ranks it Above The Venerable B.C. Clark Jingle.
Tall Paul was a pencil-necked, grinning, feel-good cowboy who could solve all your insurance woes with cars and trucks and mobile homes. The TV character began life off-screen, though, in a six-panel cartoon in the Daily Oklahoman’s “TV News” programming guide in 1970. Ken Colclasure, owner of Colclasure Advertising, invented the white-hat character he called “Guy,” according to his son, artist David Colclasure. His father passed away in 1991.
“My dad was really a creative force in the sense that making money to him was secondary,” David said. “He took those creative people and said, well, you know we can do something here. We can make something from nothing. There’s no avenue for it in a local market … we’ll create an avenue for it.”
After his name change, Tall Paul evolved into a cartoon character, a live-action mascot in a foam suit and, most famously, a stop-motion animated figure. In one commercial, he’s driving a stagecoach accompanied by a Winchester-wielding bunny sidekick.
He rode tall in the Oklahoma TV saddle from the mid-Seventies to the late Eighties, hosting Christmas and Halloween specials and movie shows. In the end, though, TP was a victim of his own success.
The insurance company jingle ended with the most famous phone number in Oklahoma: 524.1541. Ray Meade, the brother of the now-deceased Paul Meade for whom Tall Paul was named, said years of repetition on radio and TV led to the company (still in business, by the way) to end the ads in the late 1990s.
“The phone wouldn’t stop ringing,” he said. “We had too much business.”
“Protecting all the things you own, like cars and trucks and mobile homes, accidents or tickets too, call and we’ll
take care of you, 524.1541.”
Memories for Sale
Memory-Joggers of TV Commercial Greats (And Not So Greats)
From Over The Years
Five-year-old Bryden McPherson won hearts and giggles with his unique wiggle dancing
on Edmond Hyundai’s TV commercials, accompanied by “Sabre Dance.”
“Edmond Hyundai, Edmond Hyundai, Edmond Hyundai …”
“Sale! Sale! Sale! NOW at Oklahoma Discount Furniture!”
The Del Rancho kid ordering up a steak sandwich supreme.
– The commercials inspired the Mike Hosty Duo to pen the song
“Steak Sandwich Boogie.”
“But I have a brilliant personality!”
– Wright Business School
“We love folks!” – Jude and Jody and Sons Furniture