19 August 2015

[brand] Vern Fonk's Iconic Pitchman, Rob Thielke, Passes at Age 50

The bald guy in the Vern Fonk ads is as Northwest as they come.

In the world of late-night ads, you have to have that certain something in order to become an icon. Back in the early 90s, we had started to run low on ad icons … Tom Peterson had gone into retirement, the blond "More Cars, More Trucks, More Credit" Scott's Auto Sales lady had abruptly left the scene after that business had failed.

Then along came Vern Fonk. Oh, he wasn't really Vern Fonk. But more on that momentarily. Vern Fonk, the company, started as a high-risk insurer with several locations in the Seattle area; eventually, it opened branches here in PDX. And then the commercials happened.

They seemed to center, most of them, on this strange, animated, bald fellow. He played an astounding array of roles and you could never tell what he would do next. They broke through to the big time with one word … Shapoopi. 

This was broadcast on Leno. For a short time, everyone had their version; even KPTV's Good Day Oregon got in on the fun (sadly, I can't find the video. It seems to have fallen off the intermets).

At Fonk's acme, they were even riffing on Brad Pitt, in a way:

And, along the way, that strange, funny, slightly edgy bald guy actually became so identified with Vern Fonk insurance, that people thought he was Vern Fonk. He wasn't; he Rob Thielke, a man with as singularly strange sense of humor and an adeptness, with his brother Kevin, in making memorable late-night commercials for the company he worked for. At the time of the Fonkvasion, he was office manager of the Everett office; eventually, he would rise to be the president of the Company (Vern Fonk himself having retired some time previously, and also having passed in 2006).

When we had heard that Thielke passed away, at the surprisingly tender age of 50 this week, we were quite shocked. It did indirectly proffer an explanation as to why we haven't seen a Fonk ad in a while. And we're mightily unhappy about this; he really made us laugh, the way he would push things to a Theatre of the Absurd level for ads for an insurance company. Obviously he could inject bizarre humor into anything. Not even holiday greetings were safe:

I mean,  Ram-aAAAAaaa-DAAAAAAN! , right?

Vern Fonk's current FB avatar.
But Rob's no longer with us. Has he died and took Vern Fonk's brand with him? Impossible to say. Now, if you want to see any of his divinely-inspired weirdness, just head to your favorite search engine and put in "Vern Fonk Commercials", "Vern Fonk Vision", or anything like that, and it'll come tumblin' out of the YouTube like … well, like something YouTube probably has lots of.

Somebody better step up quick to become the Pacific Northwest's late-night advertising icon, or I'll have to do it.

And nobody wants that, I'll clue you what.


Brenda said...

Found the KPTV parody:

- The Wife™

Samuel Klein said...

Thank you hon!