The Bizarre Stories Behind Your Favorite Brand Mascots
We were surprised to read yesterday that Domino’s is bringing back the Noid, a character who children of the ’80s will remember as the annoying villain with the red rabbit ears who was always trying to ruin their pizza. The news got us waxing nostalgic over other popular brand mascots from our childhood, and so we decided to do a little research on where a few of the most recognizable of these characters came from. Read on, and you may be shocked by some of the things we discovered about everyone from the California Raisins to the Energizer Bunny.
The California Raisins – The California Raisin Advisory Board
According to legend, these ’80s icons were born when frustrated adman Seth Werner of Foote, Cone & Belding, who had been hired by the California Raisin Advisory Board, said the following magical words: “We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine.'” Bingo. The popularity of the ensuing TV commercials (which featured cameos by Ray Charles and Michael Jackson) led to four studio albums, a single on the Billboard Hot 100, an Emmy Award-winning Christmas special, and a Saturday morning cartoon series.
Little Mikey – Life cereal
Fun fact: The classic 1972 “Little Mikey” commercial — which was the brainchild of art director Bob Gage and starred child actor John Gilchrist — aired for 12 years straight, making it one of the longest continuously running TV ad campaigns in history. It’s also worth noting that there’s no truth to the urban legend that Gilchrist died from a pop rocks/soda-related accident a few years after it was shot; in reality, he went on to star in a slew of updated “Mikey” commercials in the ’80s, and is still alive and kicking today.
Hamburglar – McDonald’s
Of all the characters in McDonaldland, a fantasy world which was first introduced by the fast-food chain back in the early ’70s, the villainous, burger-swiping Hamburglar was always our favorite. But here’s the thing: He wasn’t always known as Hamburglar. Originally, he was a much older character called — we swear we’re not joking — the “Lone Jogger.” McDonald’s gave him a makeover in the mid-80s, turning him into a red-headed child(!), and introduced his unintelligible catchphrase: “robble robble.”
Side note: Apparently Grimace was originally evil too, and had an extra set of arms. The more you know.
The Micro Machines Man – Micro Machines
New York City actor John Moschitta, Jr. — who at one point held the record for the World’s Fastest Talker at a rate of 586 words per minute — appeared in over 100 commercials for the toy car brand in the ’80s. His memorable tagline: “Remember, if it doesn’t say Micro Machines, it’s not the real thing.”
Count Chocula – Count Chocula cereal
In 1971, General Mills introduced a new line of monster-themed breakfast cereals that would eventually include Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry, along with the now-retired flavors of Fruit Brute (a wolf character) and Fruity Yummy Mummy. Chocula, a character created by Laura Levine, a copywriter for the advertising agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, was an obvious parody of Bela Lugosi — but with Nosferatu-style fangs. Levine went on to work as a TV writer for The Bob Newhart Show, Three’s Company, Laverne & Shirley, The Love Boat, The Jeffersons, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; today she is the proud writer of the Jaine Austen mystery series.
Punchy – Hawaiian Punch
Hawaiian Punch’s violence-loving mascot, “Punchy the Puncher,” was first introduced in 1961. Drawn by artist Martin Mandelblatt and voiced by Len Maxwell, the typical spot would involve Punchy delivering his catchphrase — “How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?” — before popping a poor, unsuspecting tourist character named Opie right in the kisser. The character was allegedly inspired by the work of Hawaii resident Josefa Moe. As a family friend described in his obituary: “Josefa had a unique animated style and, if my memory at age 10 is correct, he was the guy who helped create the Hawaiian Punch characters. I know they were based on his designs and whether he got credit, I’m not sure, but the art style was his. Either he did it for them, and got paid, or they lifted it off his art board.”
The Campbell Kids- Campbell’s Soup
Grace Gebbie Wiederseim Drayton, a commercial illustrator, gave birth to the Campbell Kids back in 1904 when she added some sketches of her children to a layout for a Campbell’s streetcar ad that her husband was working on. She continued to draw for the company for the next 20 years, crafting more than 300 drawings, and her designs became so popular that they were turned into dolls, books, dishes, games, and other merchandise.
The Snuggle Bear – Snuggle fabric softener
Snuggle, a puppet created by Kermit Love (aka, the man who designed Big Bird), has been the Snuggle fabric softener brand’s mascot since 1983. He was originally voiced by a woman named Corinne Orr, but apparently — get ready to have your minds blown — she was later replaced by Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. That’s uncomfortable, right?
Mr. Owl – Tootsie Pops
While Tootsie Pops have been around since they were invented in 1930 by Lukas R. Weisgram of The Sweets Company of America, the iconic commercial that launched the catchphrase “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” didn’t make its TV debut until 1970. The spot was so popular that Mr. Owl became the brand’s official mascot, and students around the world were inspired to answer the question posed by the commercial. We’ve never tried it ourselves, but we’re going to go with the findings of a group of Harvard graduate students who used a mechanical tongue to come up with 317 licks.
The Energizer Bunny – Energizer Holdings Inc.
Did you realize that the Energizer Bunny is actually a parody of the preexisting Duracell Bunny, a character that was already well-known in Europe and Australia? Oh, the battery spokesbunny intrigue! Created back in 1989 by the ad agency DDB Needham Worldwide Inc., the hot pink rabbit would interrupt fake commercials for things like “Sitagin Hemorrhoid Remedy,” “Nasotine Sinus Relief,” and “TresCafe Coffee” — all while wearing sunglasses and banging on a drum. Hundreds of commercials later, the Energizer Bunny — which was named one of Ad Age’s Top 10 Advertising Icons — has been able to conquer (and outlast) everyone from Darth Vader to Wile E. Coyote.