Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Bear Facts About Travelodge's Sleepy Bear

Promotional Diecut Postcard
(Courtesy Vintage Roadside flickr site)
In my post yesterday about the Elyria Travelodge, I mentioned that as a kid I liked Sleepy, the teddy bear mascot for the national motel chain.

Back then, Sleepy was a small bear cub, like Winnie-the-Pooh. He wore a nightshirt and sleeping cap, and was obviously tired and ready to hibernate.

Usually he appeared to be sleepwalking, just like they do in animated cartoons with arms sticking straight out. Other times, he was shown carrying a suitcase, just like Travelodge customers.

Vintage Postcard
(Courtesy Todd Franklin's Neato Coolville flickr website)

According to the Travelodge website, Sleepy originated with the very first Travelodge in San Diego, California back in the early 1950s.

Travelodge made good use of the bruin goodwill ambassador in their advertising.

They used Sleepy not only in printed ads, brochures, postcards and matchbook covers, but on motel signage and items as well.
(Courtesy Dave Eames' great Historic Highways online museum)
For kids, the motel chain manufactured a stuffed version of Sleepy (below). 
For adults, a special Jim Beam decanter in the shape of Sleepy Bear was issued (below).

Sleepy Bear decanter, currently for sale on Etsy
Travelodge even had full-size Sleepy costumes (below) made, so that he could make public appearances.

Courtesy Travelodge.com
Sometime in the late 1960s I believe, Sleepy's design was streamlined and simplified (below).

Then in the 1970s, the sleep-deprived bear was downplayed in advertising, and was often featured only in silhouette (below).

By 1980 or so, Sleepy was completely redesigned and given a new, jowly look. His white nightshirt was replaced with a blue pajama top, with matching sleep cap and slippers.
"New" Sleepy and "Old" Sleepy
In 2004, in honor of his 50th birthday, Sleepy was redesigned to be less jowly (below).

Anyway, while preparing this post I was surprised to discover that Sleepy had been redesigned again in 2012.

Gone are the nightshirt and sleeping cap. This new Sleepy is all grown up. Surprisingly, Sleepy's not even sleepy any more!

Why? According to the Travelodge website, the explanation is that since he sleeps at Travelodge, he's well-rested and ready for adventure. It looks like he's longer a Travelodge customer anymore too; now, he's a full-fledged employee with an official company vest.

He's featured in TV commercials and on the official Travelodge Facebook page.

Travelodge has celebrated Sleepy's new look with a special page on the company website with an online graphic showing his evolution through the years (below).

Courtesy Travelodge.com
I'm sure that the new Sleepy tested well in the motel's marketing research, as he is very appealing and much in style with the current crop of animated 3-D movies.

As for me, though, I still prefer the design of the sleepwalking 1950s Sleepy. I can identify with him, too – as I'm always hoping to get that elusive good night's sleep.


Anonymous said...

He's gone from looking cute, to stupid, and now looks like a Smokey the Bear type. I didn't even know these motels were still around.

Dan Brady said...

He resembles one of the b'ars from Disney's Country Bear Jamboree to me!

Violet TheViolet said...

I remember seeing billboards a long time ago that were the old style Sleepy Bear, but he was carrying a lit candle in a candle holder. Can't find an example of that image anywhere

Unknown said...

I am looking for a real Sleepy bear in good condition 50 years old for to give to someone for their 50 B-day. I do not want an new one the bear needs to be 50 years old!!

Dan Brady said...

There's one on Ebay right now!


bill williams said...

I have 2 of the 2012 sleepy bears plush with the Travelodge vest.great ,near perfect condition with tags.anybody know what they are worth?

Unknown said...

I stumbled across your site and just had to respond. I worked for Forte Hotels, owners of Travelodge, for 28 years, until we were sold. For many of those years I worked in Marketing and was involved in many of the items of which you posted photos. I was on the team that selected the new blue logo color for Travelodge. That meant getting Sleepy from Orange to Blue. I worked with the company in Hollywood that did costumes for major movie and TV studios. They came up with the new Blue Sleepy.

In the early days the stuffed Sleepy Bear dolls came from a man in Palm Springs named Clayton Beaver. He used to make stuffed beaver dolls and approached Travelodge about making Sleepy Bear dolls. The first versions were less than right on but they got better as we went. I always loved to meet with Clayton. We had so much fun together.

I remember well when we did that Jim Bean deal. My bottle and most of my other memorabilia has vanished. I used to have the original sleepy bear costume, which was as scary as it looks in your photo. When we had our annual conferences we would always take a costume and visit local children hospitals. One of my staff would put on the costume and become sleepy. I remember once at a San Diego State University football game, I wore the Sleepy Bear costume. It was a sell out against Florida State in their hay days and SDSU was touch to beat at home. What a blast walking around as Sleepy.

Unfortunately Forte Hotels sold Travelodge in 1996. HFS, now Wyndham Hotels, bought us and all but a few lost their jobs. At the time I was Vice President of Franchise Services and we had such a good thing going. Made lots of money for Forte but they had just purchased Le Meridian Hotels and could only afford to upgrade one of the two chains. Chairman Rocco Forte wouldn't know a Travelodge if he stumbled into one so he decided to sell us and keep Le Meridian.

I was the 3rd in longevity at Travelodge but was the last person in the office near San Diego when it came time to turn off the lights and leave. It was in June, 1996 and the emotion I thought I would feel wasn't there. Selliing to HFS had been a terrible idea. We had hoped a venture capital deal would keep the staff together. HFS didn't care about the franchisees like we did. They just wanted to paper that said the franchisee had to pay them every month. I have noticed that Travelodge has about the same number of locations 22 years after the sale. They became the forgotten child in all of Wyndham many hotels chains.

It is amazing it has been 22 years. I still follow the industry and have such fond memories of my days with Sleep Bear.

Unknown said...

When I posted my Travelodge story above it showed me as anonymous. Actually I am Terry and my email is sdsu78grad@gmail.com.

Unknown said...

My grandfather IRA S. Overton created the sleep bear sign. His shop was Adobe sign service. In old town San Diego. As kids we had a sleep bear rocker that he put together. Not sure where the rocker is now.

Hans Christian Brando said...

The "silhouette" period was also when they changed the color scheme to orange. Moral: don't mess with the classics. Notice how TraveLodges started disappearing when they changed Sleepy Bear (who, according to the famous slogan, used to be everywhere) to something that looked more like Drunk Bear. There was a reason for the original design: the resemblance to a teddy bear that suggested safe, restful sleep in the otherwise impersonal atmosphere of a mid-century peas-in-a-pod motel. The more recent Sleepy designs look a lot less like something you'd want with you in your bed.

It's a little sad to see the iconic '60s TraveLodge sign design (as seen in the two photos featuring the "streamlined" Sleepy Bear) on motels that have long since stopped being TraveLodges.

Anonymous said...

When I was a child ) mid ‘60s and early’70s, I distinctly remember a bear in a blue and white stripped cap blue and white night shirt and slippers carrying a candle and candle holder doing the sleepy walk as the emblem for them, was I nuts Or was there such a logo back then?

Terry said...

The bear you described above doesn't fit the Travelodge Sleep Bear. As an employee from 1968 to 1996 when we sold the company and as one who actually help develop the "new" blue Sleepy from the Orange Sleepy, your bear most likely was not a Travelodge Sleepy.

In looking at Dan's photos you see the original Sleepy costume was pretty scary looking. I had one of those original costumes but somehow it got lost in the shuffle years ago. After that costume the first professionally done Sleepy was Orange. The blue Sleepy came later. Both were designed and produced by a company in Hollywood who did Disney Costumes.

I tried to add a photo of the Orange Sleepy costume but couldn't make it work. Perhaps if Dan could give me a clue of how to add it, I'd be happy to do so.