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Memoirs of a Market- Savvy Sock Puppet

March 09, 2003|ALEX PHAM

Perhaps nothing embodies the fortunes of Silicon Valley so well as the Sock Puppet. Created in 1999 by the San Francisco office of ad agency TBWAChiatDay, this garrulous piece of stuffed hosiery rode the Internet wave for a heady 15 months as mascot at Pets.com, the infamous online pet supply store. The company spent millions plastering his mug on prime-time television, and the Sock Puppet's career crested in 1999, when he got his own balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The bubble burst in 2000, however, when Pets.com folded, and the Sock Puppet, like so many other dot-com swashbucklers, received a pink slip.

But this is a redemption story, for Silicon Valley no less than its, er, talking hand. After 22 months in the unemployment lines, a savvier Sock Puppet is enjoying a modest comeback. Last year he landed a gig as spokespuppet for Bar None, a Pleasanton auto loan company. In September he appeared alongside former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in Times Square for the 20th anniversary of the board game Trivial Pursuit. Two months later he opened for keynote speaker Bill Gates in a video shown at Comdex, the annual Las Vegas geekfest. He has also appeared in a documentary by video artist Christian Jankowski.

Word is, he has even been approached by Hollywood producers to discuss a television sitcom. "We're in discussion," says Brian Hakan, CEO of the puppet's licensing agent, Hakan & Associates in Overland Park, Kan. (www. hakan.com). "We are considering various options to relaunch his career." We sat down with the Sock Puppet recently to consider the downs and ups of life in the new economy.

In retrospect, did you wait too long to capitalize on your fame?

Oh, man, we were all over that like a Rottweiler on a Frisbee. We had T-shirts, mugs, dolls, key chains. No lunchboxes, though. You haven't really made it until they do a lunchbox of you. Did we wait too long? Perhaps. But then again, the company was only in business for, like, three weeks.

Were you nonplused by the precipitous downfall of Pets.com?

I knew something was up when they started shredding the hamster cage liner. I mean, c'mon! That stuff's already shredded.

Did unemployment bring feelings of low self-worth?

I'll be honest; it was not an easy time. All I can say is, "Thank goodness for 'The Osbournes.' " But that's one of the nice things about being a sock puppet. My emotional range is pretty much limited to pretty happy and really happy.

What did it feel like to be out of work for so long?

Now I know what John Travolta went through in the '80s. And look at him now! That guy's on top of the world. I really think I could be the next Travolta, minus "Battleship Earth."

Be honest, isn't your new gig a comedown?

Give me a court and I'll play ball.

But isn't the lavish expense account a thing of the past?

Once, they let me go crazy in the commissary. If you're wondering how much free soda pop I can drink, the answer is 4 1/2 liters. And let me tell you something, if you've ever seen a bloated sock puppet, it's not a pretty sight.

Have you been "styled"?

They set me up with Jose Eber in Beverly Hills, but we had creative differences. He wanted to do something totally new and wild, with an international flair. I wanted him to clean the lint out of my eyes.

Is it harder to get a table at Il Fornaio these days?

Sometimes Lorenzo Lamas wears me in. Nobody knows the difference, and I don't mind because he's got very nice ankles.

What must President Bush do to revive the economy and create jobs?

The first thing I would do if I were president (and I am considering throwing my hat in the ring) is to create tax credits for corporations that hire sock puppets. This would also benefit sock manufacturers and puppeteers.

Any regrets?

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. Except maybe the part when I made a pass at Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America."

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