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1950


National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) for copyright infringement in 1953. A four-year courtroom battle ensued. In 1957, judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled for Willie, forever elevating his status as the co-op’s wiry champion in a David vs. Goliath-like struggle. Every dog has its day, however, and like other mascots of his era, Willie found his popularity waning as co-ops underwent an image adjustment. In 1987, NRECA unveiled a new corpo- rate logo that aimed to unify the na- tion’s electric co-ops under one identifi able brand. In Oklahoma, co- ops such as Caddo Electric Cooperative faced an identity crisis.


“Caddo Electric had incorporated


Willie Wiredhand into its corporate logo, and as I recall, a lot of other co- ops at that time had, too,” Boyd Lee says.


Lee serves as vice president of strate- gic planning for CKenergy Cooperative, which formed in 2014 with the consolidation of Caddo Electric in Binger, Okla., and Kiwash Electric Cooperative in Cordell, Okla. Retiring Willie to appear more “with it” sparked heated debate among co-op personnel. Some co-ops rejected the new national logo altogether. Others adopted it while continuing to enlist Willie as their co-op mascot, using him to promote their energy efficiency, youth and safety programs. Keeping Willie around was a smart corporate move, say advertising profes- sionals, who contend mascots play an important role in promoting products and services. “An advertising character, whether fictional or real, has a face,” says Warren Dotz, author of Meet Mr. Product: The Graphic Art of the Advertising Character. “Those deliber- ately designed human features create empathy, and they become our friends. While Kellogg’s has a recognizable logo on its products, that could never compete with the advantages of Tony the Tiger professing the greatness of Frosted Flakes or Toucan Sam promot- ing Froot Loops.” Today, CKenergy boasts a clean, modern logo, but warmly embraces Willie as their offi cial co-op mascot. “Oh, we’re going to keep him,” Lee


says. “My guess is he’ll be around for a very, very long time.”


1953


Investor-owned power companies sue NRECA claiming Willie Wiredhand infring- es on the copyright and trademark of their character, Reddy Kilowatt. Co-ops rally behind their mascot maintaining, “He may be small, but he’s wiry.”


In or wned po er companie 1970s


Willie’s popularity, along with that of many traditional mascots, begins to wane.


1985


Advances in fi lmmaking technology trigger a resurge in animated movies. With it comes a renewed interest in brand mas- cots, particularly among baby boomers.


Sources: Indiana Electric Consumer, Electric Co-op Today, NRECA. Photos courtesy of NRECA


2000s


Once-forgotten brand mascots reconnect with fans via Facebook and other social media. Willie Wiredhand’s Facebook page goes live in 2008 receiving hundreds of “likes.”


OCTOBER 2016 7 sue 1957


After a four-year courtroom battle, the U.S. Court of Appeals rules for Willie, a resounding victory for electric co-ops.


Freelance artist Andrew McLay creates Willie Wiredhand under the guidance of William Roberts, editor of the NRECA’s RE Magazine. Roberts suggests he produce a symbol that depicts rural electricity as the wired electrical hired hand. From hired hand to Wiredhand, Willie is born.


1951


NRECA membership adopts Willie as their offi cial mascot at the NRECA Annual Meeting.


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