THE BIRTH (AND NEAR DEATH) OF AN UGLY CELEBRITY SPOKESMAN: THE NAUGA!
First, UniRoyal created Naugahyde, a superb leathery vinyl. An instant winner in the furniture market, it begat many ripoffs. Soon the world was surfeited with fake leathers and bewildered decorators who couldn’t tell which was which. In 1966, to separate Naugahyde from the copycats, designer Kurt Weihs and I spawned the ugly Nauga, a mythical species who shed their hide once a year for the good of mankind (and UniRoyal). The Nauga, taller than a basketball center, became a spokesman for Naugahyde on TV and in national magazines. (Inside the Naugahyde costume was the sweating comedian Chuck McCann.)The Nauga became a hangtag, and a 12-inch doll for kids. But before our first ad ran (the Nauga is ugly, but his vinyl hide is beautiful) legal objections were raised. Too many people, it was claimed by the Federal Trade Commission, might look upon the ugly Nauga as a for-real living species. Huh?! Its hide might be considered genuine leather, they contended, and that could be deemed deceptive advertising. “Kill the Nauga,” they said. “Over my dead body,” I said. Research to the rescue!
A bunch of us from my ad agency hit Fifth Avenue and showed tourists and New Yorkers our Nauga ads and asked, “Is this a real animal?” “What, are you nuts?” they answered. “That’s just a big, fat, ugly, snarling, make-believe creature with a cute tush.” The ugly Nauga was spared. He went into the marketplace and UniRoyal overwhelmed their competitors. Today, the 12-inch Nauga doll is a collector’s item (Jeanette Kahn, the high-voltage president of DC Comics, sleeps with 31 of the sexy beasts in her bedroom). The ugly Nauga lives on. That’s my boy!