Friday, July 6, 2007

Advertising Mascots Part One

Okay, I hate to admit it, but I have a bit of a crush on Erin Esurance, the sexy superspy featured in animated commercials for Esurance Inc. I am apparently not alone. Google her name and one will find a number of people who are fans of the cartoon hottie. Indeed, Erin even has her own website, Erin's World. where one can read her blog, watch her commercials, and look at artwork.

Erin Esurance was created by Esurance's in-house advertising team and her commercials animated by W!ldbrain (the folks who also did the animation for Lamisil and Honda spots). She first appeared in July 2004 in some markets. By 2006 the cmapaign had went nationwide. Essentially, Erin is a superspy, often termed a "special agent." She often encounters the Mysterious Stranger, whose name appears to be Erik and who is revealed to be her handler in "Carbon Copy (see below)." She also owns a black cat (I think he is named Jackpot--at least in one blog entry she speaks of her "Jackpot-the-Cat backpack"). The commercials have been so successful that Esurance has starred Erin in a 3 minute animated short titled "Carbon Copy," featuring mad scientists, clones, and quite a bit of action. Interestingly, Esurance is mentioned only once in the entire cartoon!

The success of Erin Esurance should be no surprise. In the United States, advertising mascots have been around since the 19th century. And the number that have gone onto lasting fame are considerable. I have no idea what the oldest, trademarked advertising mascot is, but the oldest advertising mascot for a breakfast cereal is the Quaker Oats Man. The character was registered in 1877 by Quaker Mill in Ravenna, Ohio, one of the mills that would eventually merge to become the Quaker Oats Company. Although Henry Parsons Crowell, owner of the mill, was not a Quaker, he felt that the image of such would reflect purity, honesty, and integrity. Initially, the Society of Friends were not happy to be associated with the cereal and even sued Quaker Mill; they lost. The success of the Quaker Oats Man would lead the rise of other advertising mascots in the late 19th century, from Baker’s Dutch Chocolate girl to Aunt Jemima.

Speaking of Aunt Jemima, it is notable that some of the 19th century advertising mascots would be considered racist by today's standards. Aunt Jemima pancake syrup debuted in 1889, the inspiration for the name coming from a minstrel show song of the same name (sung by a performer in black face and red bandanna). The character of Aunt Jemima was created and trademarked in 1893. Aunt Jemima was conceived as the stereotypical "Mammy" character, As early as the 1920's African Americans would complain that the character was a stereotype, and eventually the character would be brought up to date in the Fifties and Sixties and completely overhauled in 1988. Not as well known as Aunt Jemima, but considered nearly as offensive is Rastus, the advertising mascot for Cream of Wheat. In fact, the character's name even has its roots in racism. Following the War Between the States, European Americans often used the name "Rastus" as a generic, derogatory name for African American men. The characer was a familiar one in minstreal shows. Introduced in 1893, Cream of Wheat started using the character, essentially a stereotypical, idealised African American chef, in print ads in 1896. Initially the character was portrayed as holding a bowl of Cream of Wheat in one hand and a skillet in the other, but he would be updated in the Twenties to be given a more "wholesome" look, complete with chef's hat. Insofar Rastus has not been updated since then, many today still see him as a symbol of racism.

The Quaker Oats Man and Rastus were two of the earliest breakfast cereal advertising mascots, but they would not be the last by any stretch of the imagination. Also among the oldest was a character called Sunny Jim, created to promote Force Toasted Whole Wheat Flakes. It was in 1901 that the Force Food Company first started making the cereal. Sunny Jim was created in 1902 by writer Minnie Maud Hanff and artist Dorothy Ficken as the cereal's mascot. Sunny Jim appeared in ads for Force Toasted Whole Wheat Flakes, along with various, humourous jingles relating how "Jim Dumps" was transformed into "Sunny Jim" by eating the cereal. The advertising campaign proved to be a rousing success, and Force became the first successful wheat-based cereal product since Shredded Wheat and Cream of Wheat. As to Sunny Jim, he took the nation by storm. A writer at the time said he was " well-known as President Roosevelt or J. Pierpont Morgan." Eventually Force Toasted Whole Wheat Flakes would cease using the character, but the link between the cereal and its popular spokesman was never completely severed. Sunny Jim would be revived in 1932, primarily because of the success both the character and the cereal saw in Great Britain.

In fact, Force Toasted Whole Wheat Flakes saw more success in the United Kingdom than it ever did in America. Force Toasted Whole Wheat Flakes was introduced into Britian in 1910, complete with Sunny Jim. Over the years a large number of premiums featuring the character were offered. "Sunny Jim" even became a part of English slang as a patronising insult. The cereal, with Sunny Jim as its mascot, has continued to be produced there to this day. The United States was a different story. The cereal would change hands frequently, undermining its initial success. Production of Force cereal would end in 1985 in America.

As to long running cereal mascots still in use, Snap, Crackle and Pop, the elves who serve as the mascots for Kellogg's Rice Krispies, have been around since the Thirties and Forties. Created by artist Vernon Grant, the inspiration for the characters came from a radio ad which emphasised the sound of "snap, crackle, and pop" made by Rice Krispies. Snap was the first to appear on boxes all the way back in 1932. Crackle and Pop would later join him in print ads before making their way to Rice Krispies boxes as well. In 1939 they would appear in their own animated short, "Breakfast Pals." Naturally, the characters were animated for television, where their commercials appeared on such shows as Howdy Doody. Snap, Crackle and Pop were the first humanoid characters to serve as spokesmen for a Kellogg's cereal.

If there was a Golden Age for breakfast cereal mascots, it was perhaps the Fifties and Sixties. There were such characters as Smaxey (1957 Kellogg's Sugar Smacks), The Trix Rabbit (1960, General Mills Trix), Lucky the Leprechaun (1964, General Mills Lucky Charms), Sugar Bear (1964, Post Sugar Crisp), Lovable Truly (1964, the postman who pitched Post Alpha Bits), Quisp (1966, Quaker Oats Quisp), and Quake (1966, Quaker Oats Quisp). The whole trend towards breakfast cereal mascots was perhaps started by one of the most famous. Tony the Tiger first appeared in 1951 as the mascot for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. He was designed by children's book illustrator Martin Provensen. Voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft in the animated ads on television, Tony became one of the most success advertising mascots of all time. He was given a son, Tony Jr., in 1952. Over the years there have been a large number of merchandise featuring the famous tiger. He is currently one of the longest running cereal mascots of all time.

Of course, Tony's fame is matched by one other breakfast cereal character. It was only a matter of time that a breakfast cereal would be created with its own spokesman as part of the creation process. In the early Sixties Quaker Oats decided to make a cereal with lots of crunch, believing this to be a quality desired by kids in their cereal. They approached Jay Ward's animation studio to create a mascot for this new cereal. Writer Allan Burns created the new character, named Cap'n Crunch, an older but still very energetic sea captain. Both the cereal (also named Cap'n Crunch) and its mascot debuted in 1963. Cap'n Crunch came with his own mythos from the beginning. His ship was the Guppy and his first mate was a canine simply called Seadog. His crew were four kids (Alfie, Carlyle, Dave, and Brunhilde). Cap'n Crunch was even given his own archenemy in the form of Jean Lafoote the Pirate (who first appeared in 1968). The success of Cap'n Crunch would lead Quaker Oats to ask Jay Ward Productions to create more characters for their cereals: Quisp, Quake, and others.

Of course, Linus the Lion Hearted, the mascot of Post Crispy Critters, would achieve things not even Tony the Tiger or Cap'n Crunch would. First appearing in 1962, Linus proved to be such a hit that by 1964 he was appearing in his own Saturday morning cartoon. Linus the Lion Hearted debuted in 1964, not only featuring Linus, but Post cereal mascots Sugar Bear, Lovable Truly, So Hi, and Rory Raccoon as well. Including its initial Saturday morning run and a subsequent run on Sunday mornings, it lasted for five seasons. It ended its run in 1969 when the FCC ruled that children's show characters could not appear in commercials on the same show. Linus would also have his own balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day. The balloon was still featured in the parade long after the cartoon left the air and even after Post had stopped making Crispy Critters!

While Linus the Lion Hearted may have been the star of the cartoon and had his own Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon, arguably the most successful Post mascot was Sugar Bear. Sugar Crisp had been introduced in 1949. Sugar Bear would not come around until 1964. He may have evolved out of the cereal's earlier mascots, three identical bears called Dandy, Handy, 'n' Candy. The trio were popular in their time, inspiring a comic strip and a Rosemary Clooney song. As the Fifties progressed, however, their popularity apparently declined. They were Sugar Crisp's mascots from 1949 to 1960.

Sugar Crisp would not be without a bear for long. Introduced in 1964, in his original incarnation Sugar Bear wore no clothes and carried a banjo. He would appear with the other Post characters on Linus the Lion Hearted. Voiced by Gerry Matthews (Sterling Holloway on the cartoon), he sounded somewhere between Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. In the early days Sugar Bear often tried to get Sugar Crisp from Granny Goodwitch (voiced by Ruth Buzzi), although their relationship was hardly adversarial. Sugar Bear would sometimes come to her rescue. In 1965 Sugar Bear was given his familiar sweater (originally green, but later changed to blue). At some point Sugar Bear would lose his banjo, and Granny Goodwitch ceased to appear in the commercials, replaced by such opponents as the Sugar Crisp Fox and The Blob (the stereotypical petty hoodlum). He was given a companion in the form of Honey Bear in the Seventies, and even appeared with his own band (The Sugar Bears) on records that were free on the back of Sugar Crisp boxes. But Sugar Bear himself only changed a little through the years, despite the fact that the cereal's name changed from Sugar Crisp to Super Sugar Crisp to Super Golden Crisp (when sugar became a dirty word on television) to Golden Crisp. Curiously, Sugar Crisp has always been called "Sugar Crisp" in Canada! Regardless, Sugar Bear remains the cereal's mascot to this day.

While breakfast cereal mascots may be the best known advertising mascots around, they are by far not the only ones. Everything from oil companies to soup companies have felt the need to create their own spokesmen.

1 comment:

Jim Marquis said...

Yeah, I like that Erin. I didn't even realize she had a name.