Monday, August 18, 2008

Mr. Bubble

It was in the Fifties that Madison Avenue finally took notice of children. There had been some marketing to children before then. For instance, breakfast cereals had long featured premiums to catch children's eyes. Ultimately, however, it was in the Fifties and later the Sixties that marketing to children really caught fire. The breakfast cereal companies not only rushed to create animated characters to attract children, but even created cereals to specifically appeal to them. The toy industry grew at a phenomenal rate in the Fifties. And now toys were being marketed directly to children through the miracle of television. Of course, the reason for Madison Avenue's sudden awareness of the very young is not hard to find. This was the era of the Baby Boom (1945 to 1960) when more children were born at any other time in the United States. With so many youngsters about it was impossible not to take notice of them.

Among the things first marketed to children in the early Sixties (particularly the years 1960 and 1961) were bubble bath products. In the United States Charlie Eaton seems to have started it all with Bub, marketed shortly before 1959. Colgate manufactured the Bubble Bath Soaky, a bubble bath whose bottles were shaped like various popular characters (in 1965 there were even four Beatles Bubble Bath Soakies). Among the most popular of the new products, however, was Mr. Bubble.

Mr. Bubble was invented by Harold Shafer, of Gold Seal Company. It was in 1942 that he founded the company with Gold Seal Floor Wax. It was in 1945 that he introduced Glass Wax. The company went national in 1948 and saw phenomenal success with Glass Wax and Snowy Bleach (introduced in 1950). It was in 1960 that he introduced Mr. Bubble.

Mr. Bubble was obviously created to be marketed to children. It was promoted by a character called Mr. Bubble, who was essentially an anthropomorphic bubble. The character of Mr. Bubble also appeared in often humorous, animated commercials from the beginning. One of the more popular taglines of the Sixties was "Mr. Bubble gets you so clean your mother won't know you." It was perhaps because of the character of Mr. Bubble and the commercials that Mr. Bubble became a hit.

Originally, Mr. Bubble was in a powered form, which was the reason for the warning on the package "Keep Dry." This was ridiculed at the time by comic Don Novello (best known as Father Guido Sarducci), who wrote them letters under the pen name Lazlo Toth. He published the letters in the book The Lazlo Letters. The warning to "Keep Dry" a product meant to be used in water must have seemed ridiculous to Novello. A liquid version of Mr. Bubble was later introduced.

Mr. Bubble would prove to be a very successful product from the Sixties well into the Seventies. The product was so successful that there was even a wide array of Mr. Bubble merchandise. There have been T-shirts, caps, keychains, boxer shorts, earrings, and a number of other items.

Of course, Mr. Bubble hasn't always had it easy. In 1985 Harold Schafer sold Gold Seal Company to Airwick Industries. In 1998 Mr. Bubble was obtained by Playtex Products Inc. Platex Products was later acquired by Ascendia Brands Inc. Beyond changes in ownership, the sales of Mr. Bubble would falter in the Eighties. It was then that Cosrich Group Inc. first licensed the use of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. Their licensing deal would also include Disney movies, such as Beauty and the Beast. They would later manufacture bubble baths based on the Sesame Street characters as well. In the end Cosrich would go into licensing in a way that Colgate never had with its Soakies. And sadly, this hurt Mr. Bubble's sales.

Fortunately, Mr. Bubble's salvation would come from the most unexpected places. It was a furnishing store, Restoration Hardware, known for reviving the furnishings of the past. Looking to revive old, established brands, they naturally took an interest in Mr. Bubble. They conducted a study and found that there was still public interest in the character, particularly on the part of mothers, who liked both the simplicity and the price of Mr. Bubble. Restoration Hardware began selling Mr. Bubble, and his revival was under way.

Sadly, the revival was not to last. Ascendia Brands Inc. had racked up a lot of debt in the past few years. Much of the debt was secured by liens against the company's assets. Worse yet, many of their acquisitions did not sell as well as might be expected. It was on August 6, 2008 that Ascendia Brands Inc. filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. They are currently looking for a buyer for the company.

It is hard to say what the future holds for Mr. Bubble. As a well established brand, I think it would be safe to say that whoever buys Ascendia will probably continue manufacturing it. It would be a shame for Mr. Bubble to go the way of such brands as Burma-Shave, Chewels gum, and Brim Coffee. Mr. Bubble was the bubble bath of choice for many mothers of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. I have fond memories of taking baths in the stuff myself. Somehow I just cannot see Cosrich's licensed bubble baths ever quite taking the place of Mr. Bubble.


dennis said...

Dennis met Lazlo Toth on a few occasions. Dennis hates bubble bath but the old Mr. Bubble commercials were cute.

Squirrel said...

simpler times.

nowadays there is probably a disclaimer on the box listing possible side effects. "See your dermatologist if you have these reactions..."