06 August 2009
What a fascinating tale of a marketing campaign gone horribly wrong. Or right... depending on what you hear or read. Those late night TV ads for the "male enhancement" product Enzyte have been around for awhile. Now, here is the long and short of the story behind greed and Smiling Bob.
Steve Warshak and his mom Harriett were behind our friend Smiling Bob and were ultimately sent to prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. Harriett got two years while her son was sent up the river for twenty five years. This after thousands of complaints from customers who claimed the penis pill didn't work. (among many other complaints) That is the short of it... no big deal (if you will) as this kind of thing happens all the time, it seems.
But my interest into this was behind finding out just who Smiling Bob is, or as the case may be, was.
The picture above is the famous if not ubiquitous Smiling Bob. Bob, as the well endowed mascot for Enzyte, was apparently played by actor John Larson. So where the hell is he? Was he typecast into oblivion as "Mr. Big", too large for any other work? As it happens in the world of advertising, Bob was merely an actor hired to play his part, cashing his checks as the advertising campaign wore on. But, the founder of Enzyte ran into his legal troubles and John Larson was left... er... hanging, if you will.
Now for the meat of the mystery. It seems that just before Warshak got caught with his hands in the cookie jar, there was talk of a new mascot being sought to replace Bob with the old proverbial "...we're going in a different direction" line. But, before all of that could happen, Bob apparently vanished.
How can you make an iconic figure as Smiling Bob merely go away? Where does one hide such an enormous figure in the world of advertising? Did Bob possess more than what was being let on?
Unverified stories show that actor John Larson has been reported missing or dead since June 12, 2008 apparently the victim of a boating accident off the coast of Martinique in the Carribbean. What we do know is that since that date, no one has heard nor seen Larson aside from this undated photo.
To this date, no one knows anything about the "accident" or just where Larson went. Moreover, there has been no word from any friends or family as to Larson's whereabouts. If he was alive, you would think a guy of his stature would certainly have found work doing something... anything. If he were dead, then you would certainly hear about that mystery somewhere on the air or on the internet. Very little exists in either place and if you paid any attention to the advertising campaign, there has been no new production including Smiling Bob in quite sometime. Even the usual internet conspiracy nuts are strangely silent on this one. Where's Geraldo when you really need him?
Gives one pause to think Smiling Bob was, perhaps, killed off in a more literal way. After all, Warshak had planned on renaming the company and finding a new spokespenis. Now, Warshak and his mom met the hands of justice in prison leaving behind an apparent wake of thousands of under-endowed American men. Not to mention one missing big guy last seen living large in the idyllic scenery off the coast of Martinique.
After the Feds did their duty to the Warshak empire, Enzyte somehow survived and is still going strong, after a new company acquired the brand and enacted a change in operating practices. Bolstered by the immortal image of Smiling Bob still coming through the late night TV airwaves. As for John Larson, we may never know the truth.
As for the complaining customers, remarkably very few of them bothered with getting a refund, settling instead with being born with a ding instead of a dong after the snake oil inventor and his mom went to prison and what may have been TV's greatest pitch man slipped under the waves of the beautiful blue Carribbean.