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Kellogg’s closes down artist’s campaign – videos of Tony the Tiger with prostitute went too far

Jani Leinonen has once again earned the ire of an American-owned corporation for his attention-grabbing artwork. The Finnish artist says his next project will be a movie featuring a whole group of the world’s best-known multinational advertising mascots, giving them a chance to tell their own stories.

Kuvakaappaus -sivustolta
Kuvakaappaus -sivustolta Image: Tony is Back / YouTube

Controversial visual artist Jani Leinonen is at it again and another global company is not too happy. His latest campaign, unveiled two weeks ago on social media, has angered Kellogg’s, an American multinational food manufacturing company that specialises in breakfast cereal and snacks.

Mimicking his success doing parodies of the McDonald’s fast food chain icon Ronald McDonald, Leinonen’s latest project has the Kellogg’s character Tony the Tiger navigating a grown-up world of prostitution, police violence and suicide bombers in a series of videos. Just as in the commercials shown widely on television in days gone by, the Tony is Back! campaign shows the animated marketing character helping people solve their problems with a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

Kellogg’s was not happy with the unauthorised use of their brand’s advertising mascot and shut down the campaign’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites in just 12 hours.

“The strong reaction surprised me. My exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma features 10 different advertising mascots and no one has said anything about them,” says Leinonen.

Still available on YouTube

His Tony is Back! campaign videos can still be seen on YouTube, and they have already attracted close to 900,000 views. Leinonen plans to add the videos to his School for Disobedience exhibit currently showing at Kiasma. 

Leinonen’s Tony Is Back! campaign is just the start of something much bigger, the artist promises. His next project is a film called The Mascots, starring none other than Tony the Tiger himself.

“We are looking for people who have worked as mascots for global firms in the past. A few have already signed on and they’ve had some entertaining stories to tell about the companies in question and their ways of operating,” he says.

The Mascots will give the advertising mascots of the world’s largest corporations a chance to tell their own story. Leinonen says the movie should be ready in about a year.

Seemingly innocent images

Leinonen’s art has consistently made use of ready everyday branding images, adapting them to take on a new meaning that often criticises or ridicules the consumer culture, marketing strategies or fame.

He explained his obsession with branding in a 2012 interview:

“I read a study that the most unhealthy food products are the most dazzling by the appearance, and those are of course kid´s products. The first time I used packages in my art I received a threatening letter from a Finnish company called Raisio. I had painted on their age-old Elovena oatmeal packages. There’s a girl in a traditional Finnish national costume in the cover and I had painted her in a niqab, or as a call girl, or a suicide terrorist. Their lawyer wrote in the letter they have a right to claim financial compensations because I have damaged their trademark. They dropped the case after getting a lot of bad publicity which was in those days my only weapon against these giant corporations. That was the first time I realized that these colourful and seemingly innocent images are dangerous.”

Leinonen kidnapped a Ronald McDonald statue taken from a Helsinki restaurant in 2011. His daredevil act made international news headlines after he posted an Al-Qaeda style ransom video demanding that the multinational fast food chain account for the sourcing of its food and unethical labour practices.

When the multinational refused to comply, Leinonen made a video of a hooded man beheading Ronald McDonald with the aid of a guillotine mimicking the design idiom of world-renowned Finnish designer Alvar Aalto.

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