The Test of Time

Posted August 10, 2016, under Spokescritters

Recently we mentioned the considerable staying power of some corporate mascots (or spokescritters, as we often call them), specifically citing Bibendum, the famed Michelin Man.

But Bibendum does not stand alone as a centennial spokescritter. He is joined by several others that have stood the test of time. You might be surprised to learn just how venerable are some of the faces that stare out from supermarket shelves.

Quaker Oats guy: born 1877

The “Quaker Oats guy” (“Larry”) was the very first trademark for a breakfast cereal. The Quaker name and mascot were selected by the brand’s original owners because “Quaker” represented good quality and honest value. Like every mascot on this list, Larry has undergone many iterations over the years.

This includes the blue silhouette originating in the 1970s, created by advertising legend Saul Bass.

In 2012, Larry got a subtle makeover (bottom right). Along with a haircut and some weight loss, he also has the glowing skin associated with daily oatmeal masks. That’s not a joke. It says so right there on the Quaker Oats website.

Morton Salt’s ‘Umbrella Girl’: born 1914

Salt is an important ingredient in many recipes. But in the early 20th century, they hadn’t solved its tendency to clump up in damp conditions. Enter Morton Salt. Adding magnesium carbonite to the salt allowed the stuff to pour freely no matter what — leading to the company slogan, “When it rains, it pours.”

To symbolize this innovation, they chose the image of a young girl playing in the rain with her umbrella, spilling salt.

While this certainly carries the desired message, we have to wonder if salt was really a sought-after plaything for small girls in 1914.

The Umbrella Girl has gone on to become one of the most recognized brand mascots in America, and while she too has had her share of cosmetic changes, she remains an icon of carefree youth.

The product itself also underwent some changes after it was discovered that magnesium carbonite in sufficient quantities acts as a laxative.

Aunt Jemima: cooking since 1893

Not all enduring mascots have such innocent beginnings. Along with the Cream of Wheat Chef (whose name is a racist term) and Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima’s creation is deeply rooted in America’s shameful history of racism and slavery. While efforts have been made by the brand to discard the more blatant trappings of the past, we’re not certain that it’s possible to hide those roots simply by repainting the roses.

Despite this, thanks to being the face of a universally popular product — pre-made pancake mix and syrups — Aunt Jemima has enjoyed success throughout her more than 120 years of existence.

Planters Peanuts: born 1916

And last but not least: 2016 is the year that the world’s most famous legume turns 100. To mark the occasion, Planters Peanuts has hired people to drive around the country in a peanut-shaped truck.

Show of hands: How many of you would take this job in a heartbeat?

It’s not the first Nutmobile — that honor goes to a much stranger vehicle from the late ’90s — nor is it even the weirdest advertising tactic Planters has pulled. After all, the fact that they’ve created such an enduring staple of advertising by throwing a monocle on an ambulatory peanut is pretty unusual. How about hiring one of the world’s biggest movie stars to voice your mascot?

Mr. Peanut’s place in the culture zeitgeist gets weirder than that: In 1974, artist Vincent Trasov ran for mayor of Vancouver, Canada — in his full-size Mr. Peanut outfit.

He got 2,685 votes.

Mr. Peanut was originally the idea of then-schoolchild Antonio Gentile, a submission to a contest from the fledgling nut company. An unverified artist later added the top hat, monocle, and spats, creating a look that truly merits the overused adjective “iconic.” So much so, in fact, that when Planters surveyed consumers in 2014 about possible changes to the character design, the winning option was to leave him unchanged.

All Together Now

It doesn’t necessarily take a century to immortalize a spokescritter. You do get a bit of an advantage if your mascot is for a food item that appears in every cupboard in the continent, true. And it can be hard to bottle lightning. But one key seems to be treating characters — and the products they endorse — with a certain level of respect.

This might explain why even other brands will want to borrow mascots for their own advertising.

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