July 14 (Reuters) - When a commercial for Men's Wearhouse hit the airwaves on July 8, there was one glaring omission.
Its founder George Zimmer, the man whose deep, gravelly voice has been connected with the company's ad campaign for more than 25 years, did not appear.
The new ad features a bevy of men in boxer shorts and ties, waving signs on the street promoting the company's National Suit Drive, an annual charity event that donated suits to unemployed men who are looking to get back in the workforce. Zimmer and his signature phrase - "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it," - are nowhere to be found.
Zimmer's absence coincided with the board of Men's Wearhouse decision in June to abruptly oust Zimmer as executive chairman in a dispute over the company's structure and strategy.
The image of Zimmer, 64, and the company he served had been inseparable for many years. But as ad front man he didn't connect with the twenty-and-thirty something shoppers they were targeting, one person close to Men's Wearhouse said.
Representatives for Zimmer and Men's Wearhouse declined to comment.
Earlier Men's Wearhouse and Zimmer said in separate statements it had to do with disagreements over direction of the company, including taking it private.
Over the past several years, Men's Wearhouse's commercials tried to appeal to hip, young men though Zimmer played a role.
But without his face or recognizable voice, it could also alienate loyal customers.
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel suggested Zimmer's exit was tantamount to firing Santa Claus and joked in a spoof that Men's Wearhouse hired actor Gary Busey as its new pitchman.
"Zimmer is embedded in the DNA of Men's Wearhouse," said Robin Lewis, a retail consultant and CEO of industry publication The Robin Report. "You take him away at risk of diminishing the brand's strength."
In some ways the saga highlights the pitfalls of a brand tied too closely to one person. A brand should live past its founder, spokesperson or even its logo, said Ted Royer, chief creative officer of the ad agency Droga5.
"It wasn't the most exciting work, it was just the ubiquity of the message and his face," Royer said.
THAT'S THE FACT, JACK
Men's Wearhouse, based in Fremont, California, operates more than 1,100 stores under the Men's Wearhouse, Moores and K&G brands that sell suits, tuxedos, and other clothing.
In 1973, Zimmer opened his first Men's Wearhouse in Houston. The store's first commercial aired two years later but Zimmer didn't become the image until 1986.
"I wanted to establish credibility for our everyday low pricing," Zimmer said, according to Men's Wearhouse website. The thinking was the founder would project authenticity.
The phrase he is famous for almost didn't come to pass. Zimmer originally wanted to say "That's the fact, Jack," cribbing the line from Bill Murray's character in the movie "Stripes." But Zimmer changed his mind at the last minute.
While Zimmer has always been in the spotlight, the company started to dial back his role in the commercials.
Three years ago, the retailer launched a new ad campaign that featured other actors in various skits. Zimmer doesn't appear until the very end.
In the most recent commercial for the suit drive, Scott Hess, senior vice president at the media agency Spark, said the absence of Zimmer's voice is noticeable to those engaged with the brand.
Men's Wearhouse, however, could always fall back on Zimmer if needed. It has a licensing agreement with Zimmer who will receive $250,000 for each of the next four years, should they use his image in its advertising.