THE LEGACY BRAND AND AGENCY GSD&M debut a diverse version of the Beloved CharActers
Fruit of the Loom’s “fruit guys,” which trace their history back to commercials in the 1970s, are now “fruit people” on TikTok. Fruit of the Loom
The fruit guys, as they were once known, sang shoe-gazing ballads a la Coldplay, dropped music videos worthy of early MTV and humanized a healthy food group, all in service of hawking modestly priced underwear.
The endearing mascots for Fruit of the Loom—a rotating ensemble of actors who first appeared in TV commercials in the 1970s and at one time included a pre-Oscar winning F. Murray Abraham—were last seen around 2011.
Now they’re back with a 2023 update and a digital-first marketing strategy.
No one, least of all the legacy brand, ever seemed to forget about the fruit guys in their absence, according to Bryse Yonts, director of brand communications.
“Focus groups have been asking about them for the past 11, 12 years,” Yonts told Adweek, noting that the original costumes are enshrined in the company’s archives in Western Kentucky. “We discussed reviving them many times, but we wanted to make sure we did it the right way at the right time.”
‘Modern and relevant’
That approach has involved remaking the group itself, while still leaning into history and nostalgia, and retrofitting the characters for today’s always-connected audiences, particularly Gen Z.
The newly diverse and renamed “fruit people”—an ethnic and gender mix—arrived last week with quirky videos on TikTok. Emma, identified as the “chief TikToker,” joins as a co-star to Apple, Leaf, Green Grape and Purple Grape.
“There’s a lot of equity in these characters, and any competitor would be hard-pressed to mimic or copy that,” Yonts said. “We’ve reshaped them in a way, taking the best parts of our past and making them modern and relevant.”
The reemergence is paying off, Yonts said, with a collective 2.3 million impressions so far. Next up? Instagram and its Reels feature as the brand aims to “find and engage in a meaningful way with consumers who remember these characters and those who don’t know them at all,” Yonts said.
Fruit of the Loom’s internal marketers worked closely on the campaign with agency GSD&M, which won creative and media AOR duties in late 2021. For nearly a decade prior, the account was on Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s roster.
GSD&M debuted the brand on TikTok in spring 2022 and drove notable traffic with cornucopia-themed posts. (Ad nerd trivia: The cornucopia was never part of the brand’s logo, but many people think it was, per the Mandela effect).
The early seeding laid the foundation for the fruit people reintroduction, according to Jess Zalaznick, creative director.
“They are a unique blend of beloved and distinctive, plus they provide narrative flexibility that allows Fruit of the Loom to participate and interact in pop culture and trends,” Zalaznick told Adweek.
The work intends to tap into TikTok’s “rhythms and fast-breaking trends” with content that “feels inherent to what audiences want to engage with in that space,” Zalaznick said.
Creative for the launch has focused on the relatable return to work, along with the characters’ interests in makeup tutorials, dance challenges and food reviews.
The actors “brought their own charm to the production” and flexed their improv skills, Zalaznick said. “Our cast is made up of actors who are social influencers in their own right, and they were able to build upon the trends we outlined in each script.”
Fruit of the Loom follows a number of brands that have dusted off characters from the past and remolded them for contemporary consumers. McDonald’s resurrected Grimace and the Hamburglar, while Quiznos brought back the divisive Spongmonkeys, to name a high-profile few.
The former fruit guys, a musically-inclined crew with physical comedy chops, were once included on Adweek’s list of “top 10 ads with people dressed up as food.”
Though the fruit people campaign is strictly digital at this point—where Fruit of the Loom has largely shifted its marketing from traditional channels—there could be other opportunities for the mascots in the broader ad scheme.
The mascots are now “a piece of the overarching strategy,” Yonts said, “but there’s always the option to bring them out in a larger capacity.”