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Going nuts for ad icons

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Dec. 29--Those advertising icons and hundreds more will soon be housed in a Kansas City, Mo., museum honoring their contributions to American culture.

Construction began last week on the Advertising Icon Museum, which is scheduled to open in September 2007 as part of a $100 million mixed-use development, said Howard Boasberg Jr., the museum's executive director.

"There's nothing like it in the country," said Ileen Gallagher, a consultant on the project who previously worked for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

"The proliferation of icons really happened about the [JUMP]time of television in the '50s," Ms. Gallagher said. "They're an important part of pop culture and really reflect our social and cultural history."

The evolution of advertising characters from cartoon pitchmen to cultural mainstays led Robert Bernstein, the museum's founder, to purchase a collection of about 900 icons in 2003 to serve as the museum's foundation. He hopes to more than double the collection through another acquisition next month.

"This will give an opportunity for people anywhere and everywhere throughout the world to be able to visit some of the icons that they love," said Mr.

Bernstein, who co-founded Bernstein-Rein Advertising Inc. in Kansas City more than 40 years ago and created the Happy Meal for McDonald's in 1976.

"To capture this in one location, you can't help but start reminiscing and bringing back really great memories," he said.

The museum's oldest piece will be a 1939 Heinz Aristocrat Tomato, complete with top hat and monocle. The rarest relic is a 7-foot Jolly Green Giant, one of three in the world.

The icon collection will be insured for more than $1 million, Mr. Boasberg said, declining to say how much it cost to acquire.

"From a brand perspective, we're totally excited to be a part of this official collection of icons from throughout history," said Santina Balestreire, spokeswoman for Del Monte Foods, whose museum inhabitants will be Charlie the (StarKist) Tuna and Morris the 9Lives Cat.

The 12,000-square-foot museum is an "opportunity to see some of the older aspects of the characters and how they've grown into the icons they are today," she said.

In addition to housing hundreds of the three-dimensional advertising icons, the museum will be the permanent home of the "Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame," which is part of Advertising Week, an annual event in New York City for advertising and media professionals that started in 2004.

The Advertising Week board of directors selects 25 Walk of Fame finalists each year. The public selects the winners by voting online. Voters can cast their ballots at a special Advertising Week site after the 2006 finalists are announced next month.

The original five inductees were the M&M characters, Mr. Peanut, Tony the Tiger, Poppin' Fresh (the Pillsbury Dough Boy) and the Aflac duck. They were joined this year by the Geico gecko and Juan Valdez of Colombian coffee fame.

"We are just thrilled with the partnership," said Matt Scheckner, executive director of Advertising Week. "This builds a bridge from Madison Avenue in New York City to America's heartland in Kansas City."

Mr. Bernstein said Missouri's largest city was the only one considered for the museum's location "because it's my home and we can donate a lot more to it."

The city is looking forward to adding another offering to its more than 50 museums and cultural centers, said Laren Mahoney, communications manager for the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association.

"A visitor, or resident for that matter, can see something unique [at the museum] and go home and talk about it," she said. "It's the water-cooler effect."

The museum, which has applied for nonprofit status, also plans to offer educational programs targeted at students from elementary school to college, Mr. Boasberg said.

The museum's plans, future exhibits and information about its collection can be viewed online at


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