Mr. Peanut, the dapper Planters mascot since 1916, has never spoken - until now. Kraft Foods is updating the familiar peanut character and the brand to cater to contemporary consumers with a speaking voice in TV and theater ads. The voice is supplied by actor Robert Downey, Jr. Mr. Peanut also takes on a retro look dating to the 1930s and 1940s.

Planters' Mr. Peanut character, which appears on packaging, ads and nearly everything associated with the peanut brand, is getting a makeover. Mr. Peanut is also getting a voice in efforts by Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., to revitalize the character and keep the brand current for contemporary consumers. A TV commercial featuring the voice of actor Robert Downey, Jr. as Mr. Peanut will also be previewed on the character’s Facebook page ( before it runs on TV and in movie theaters.

The humorous commercial will also unveil a new look for Mr. Peanut, meant to give him a more authentic appearance by actually evoking Mr. Peanut designs that date back to the 1930s and 1940s. He appears brown instead of yellow and sports a gray flannel suit rather than his black tie and tails.

Believing that nostalgia is a powerful sales tool during tough times, Kraft’s marketers, like many others, are reviving classic ad mascots, slogans and jingles to appeal to present-day shoppers. But nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, particularly when it comes to younger consumers, so the goal is to be perceived not as old-fashioned and out of date but rather as “old-school,” from an earlier era and worthy of respect.

Chicago-based research firm Mintel International Group calls that concept “new retro” and lists it among a dozen trends that will shape the marketing of consumer packaged goods in 2011. “One thing we learned is that while people love Mr. Peanut, they weren’t connecting with him beyond the nostalgia,” says Jason Levine, senior director for marketing at Planters at the East Hanover, N.J., office of Kraft. “Having him able to speak is bringing him to life as a personality,” he added, “and people can engage with him more.”