The Puttermans were a family of plastic robots who outlasted others, thanks to their Duracell brand batteries (a playful reference to their deadpan 1970s ad campaign which featured head-to-head competition between toys). The campaign was made to combat the successful Energizer Bunny ad campaign.
The characters were developed by special effects guru Steven Johnson and his company XFX, Inc. The actors were made up to look as if they were claymation or computer animation characters. The costumes consisted of boxy modular units of stiff foam rubber coated with urethane. The characters all had large copper-top batteries protruding from their backs and their faces were made of state-of-the-art latex prosthetics designed to heavily caricature the actors' own features, and complete character wardrobes. They tended to alienate viewers, due to their non-human yet non-toy or cartoon appearance, and the series of commercials was abandoned. At the time, the actor identities were not revealed to preserve the family's mystique.
The family consisted of:
- Herb, the father (Keith Langsdale)
- Flo, his wife, the mother (Marla Frees)
- Son, Zack (Debi Derryberry)
- Daughter, Trish (Krystee Clark)
- Grandma Putterman, who was actually played by a male actor.
- Aunt Gert (Lanie Zera)
Some of the commercial plots included the following:
- The Puttermans attend a family reunion picnic. A talkative relative freezes up mid-sentence and falls face first into a plate of spaghetti, and the Puttermans jokingly accuse her husband of switching her Duracell battery with an off-brand.
- Trish Putterman and boyfriend Bruce sit on a porch swing, and wish that their romantic night could go on forever with the help of Duracell.
- Grandma Putterman is so filled with energy, she can't stop dancing.
- The Putterman family go on a camping trip and find that their flashlights still work with the help of Duracell.
- Herb answers the front door and it's Trish's date who thinks batteries are batteries.
- Trish and Zack are in a drive thru and Todd, who has a crush on Trish, is working with an off brand battery.
- The family visits a museum of art.
- The family parrot is running low on batteries, Herb gives him a long lasting Duracell battery and he talks so much they take his cake outside.
- The family spends some time at the miniature golf course with a friend who's using an off brand battery.
In popular culture
Halloween costumes of Herb and Flo, complete with latex masks, were released in North America.
On the December 3, 1994 episode of the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, as part of Weekend Update, anchor Norm McDonald joked, "The new ad campaign for Duracell batteries is already having a dramatic effect. Over seventy percent of consumers say they now find the batteries, quote, 'creepy and disturbing'."
- "Battery-driven family gives comedic charge to Duracell", by Robert Goldrich, Shoot, volume 35 issue 42, October 21, 1994, page 11 (restricted access)
- "'Battery family' ads jolt TV viewers", The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, November 8, 1994, page C3 (restricted access)
- "Power Players: Duracell and Eveready do battle -- The two battery companies compete with commercials featuring the Energizer Bunny and the Puttermans", by Casey Davidson, Entertainment Weekly, issue 258, January 20, 1995
- "Are Puttermans Weird or Lovable?", by Simi Horowitz / Washington Post, Wilmington Morning Star, volume 129 number 226, July 4, 1996, page 5D
- "They're Weird; But Who -- or What -- Are the Battery Bunch?", by Simi Horowitz, The Washington Post, July 7, 1996 (restricted access)
- "Meet the Puttermans: Oddball family gives Duracell positive charge", by Simi Horowitz / Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, July 30, 1996, page 33 (restricted access)