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Powerful Living Plugging Away


There’s more to Willie Wiredhand than meets the eye


By Mary Logan Wolf H


e’s ageless, but not static. As a spry 66-year-old, Willie Wiredhand, iconic mascot of the rural electrifi cation program, is maturing more gracefully than most celebrities his age, minus the cosmetic adjustments, of course. Willie’s lines remained unchanged, his


light socket head still perches atop an electric plug body, while his face wears the same reliable, friendly expression that has charmed millions of rural Americans for years. In Oklahoma, you can fi nd Willie almost anywhere. At the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, his smiling four-foot effi gy greets vis- itors in the front lobby. From the high plains of the Panhandle to the wooded Kiamichi Mountains, electric co-ops place his likeness on every- thing from golf shirts and trucker caps to fl y swatters, coffee mugs, stadium blankets and more. Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC) baked Willie into the familiar earthenware of Oklahoma’s own Frankoma pottery, mark- ing the co-op’s 50th anniversary with Willie on a platter. From the early ‘50s through the ‘60s, Willie shared his name with an


Oklahoma-grown gospel quartet that brought live music and rural electric values to viewers of KWTV Channel 9 in Oklahoma City, as well as channels in Tulsa and Ada. When the Willie Wiredhand Serenaders weren’t crooning on TV, the group traveled the Midwest playing at co-op annual meetings in Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas. Across the country, it’s a similar story. One way or another, Willie


Wiredhand just keeps plugging away. As famous U.S. advertising characters go, Willie’s longevity ranks up there with the likes of Mr. Clean and Charlie Tuna, all baby boomers born in the golden era of corporate mascots. An article published in the Indiana Electric Consumer quotes author and


researcher Margaret Callcott, who studied brand characters extensively for her doctoral thesis. Callcott claims, “With the rise of mass communication and mass transportation at the beginning of the 20th century, companies needed a way to distinguish their products and at the same time build trust among consumers. They fi lled both needs in the fabricated characters who spoke through the emerging mass media.”


Calcott also spoke to the value of having Willie as a time-tested brand icon representing electric cooperatives. “Willie is one of a long line of distinguished industrial spokes-characters that have been used to identify and personalize industrial products and services,” she said. “Many marketers of products and services would love to have a symbol as recognizable as Willie to distinguish them in the current marketplace. Those lucky enough to have these consumer icons at their disposal will do well to figure out how to leverage them in the new century.” For electric cooperatives, Willie became the model mascot—a reliable, friendly and capable crusader for co-ops beleaguered by large, investor-owned utilities that disapproved of their right to exist. When private utilities com- plained Willie was a rip-off of their character, Reddy Kilowatt, they sued the


“Many marketers of products and services would love to have a symbol as recognizable as Willie to distinguish them in the current marketplace.”


- Margaret Callcott, branding scholar 6


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