Struck by Fame


It was a very bright idea indeed that struck Annapolitan Joel Machak and then partner Jim Ferguson a quarter of a century ago. Struck is a key word here. For in that moment of brilliance, the two ad men created the Crash Test Dummies Vince & Larry.

For the next 14 years, from 1985 to 1998, Vince & Larry struck and were struck by all sorts of dismembering objects in a variety of collisions so inventive it seemed to be drawn from Looney Tunes. All to keep you safer while driving. 

In return for their suffering, the Crash Test Dummies — who were played by real actors in television and print public service announcements — achieved fame.

The Ad Council ranks the campaign among the historic campaigns that have made a difference in society. By helping convince us to wear seat belts, the Council credits Vince & Larry with having “helped save an estimated 85,000 lives, and $3.2 billion in costs to society.”

Now the Crash Test Dummies have entered the halls of history. 

The public service campaign was accepted this week into the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History collection.

The museum is not an easy place to get. Hundreds of thousand of offers are turned down.

So Machak is pleased. “It’s gratifying knowing that we helped save thousands of lives,” he says, adding that “I’m extremely honored that the Smithsonian made this campaign part of its permanent collection.”

Entering the collection are the original Vince & Larry crash-test dummy costumes, props, original drawings, set sketches and photographs and awards — plus Machak’s oral history on the making of the campaign. All becomes part of the museum’s permanent collection of American transportation.

The campaign was created for the advertising firm Leo Burnett. Nowadays, Machak lives among us, working as executive creative director for Crosby Marketing Communications.