Imagine a world where breakfast is just a meal, snacks are merely food, and restaurants are simply places to eat. Now, sprinkle in some magic – a tiger with a thunderous roar for cereal, a clown who makes fast food fun, and a giant who turns vegetables into a giant adventure. Welcome to the silly world of food mascots, where imagination meets marketing and creates icons that transcend their products.
These mascots do more than just sell; they become part of our cultural fabric. They’re at our birthday parties in the form of themed cakes, they are our Halloween costumes, and for many, they’re nostalgic reminders of Saturday morning cartoons and after-school snacks. It’s no exaggeration to say that these characters hold a special place in our hearts and memories.
Let’s dive into a world where food is whimsical, and mascots are the stars of the show!
Iconic Eats: Legendary Food Mascots
Mr. Peanut (Planters)
Mr. Peanut, the dapper, top-hat-wearing peanut, was born in 1916. He was the brainchild of a 14-year-old boy, Antonio Gentile, who submitted his sketch in a logo contest held by Planters. The addition of the monocle and cane was later added by a commercial artist, bringing the complete character to life.
While Mr. Peanut has been associated with various slogans, he is best known for simply representing the Planters brand as a symbol of sophistication and quality.
Mr. Peanut wasn’t always silent; in the 2010s, he was given a voice in commercials, with actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Hader lending their voices to this iconic character.
Tony The Tiger (Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes)
Tony the Tiger roared into existence in 1952 as part of a contest to become the official mascot for Kellogg’s new cereal, Frosted Flakes. Tony, designed by Eugene Kolkey, won the contest and has been encouraging kids to start their day with a great breakfast ever since. He is on our list of Famous Cereal Mascots.
“They’re Grrreat!” is the famous catchphrase of Tony the Tiger, encapsulating the delicious taste of Frosted Flakes.
Tony the Tiger has evolved over the years, originally starting as a more detailed and realistic tiger. He’s also made appearances in various forms of media, including video games and even his own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Colonel Sanders (KFC)
Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of KFC, became the face of the brand in the 1950s. His iconic image, with the white suit and string tie, is based on his real-life appearance. He was a real person, not just a mascot, who started selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky.
Though not a slogan specifically tied to the Colonel, KFC is famous for its “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good” tagline.
The title “Colonel” is honorary – a Kentucky Colonel title – and not a military rank. Sanders was passionate about his product and traveled miles to franchise his chicken, making him not just the mascot but the driving force behind KFC’s success.
The Pillsbury Doughboy (Pillsbury)
Poppin’ Fresh, more popularly known as the Pillsbury Doughboy, was created in 1965 by Rudy Perz, a copywriter at Pillsbury’s advertising agency. The idea came to Perz as he was going through Pillsbury’s canned dough product line.
The Doughboy is known for his giggle more than a spoken slogan, often giggling when poked in the stomach in advertisements.
The Doughboy has a full name – Poppin’ Fresh – and a family, including a wife, Poppie Fresh, and even children, Popper and Bun Bun.
Chester Cheetah (Cheetos)
Chester Cheetah first appeared in Cheetos advertising in 1986. Created as a cool, sunglasses-wearing cheetah, Chester was positioned as the antithesis to more wholesome mascots, embodying a mischievous and laid-back attitude.
“It ain’t easy bein’ cheesy,” and later “Dangerously Cheesy,” are among Chester’s famous taglines, reflecting his cool and edgy persona.
Chester Cheetah was initially designed to compete with the animated spokesperson of another popular snack, Frito-Lay’s Fritos.
The M&M’s Characters (M&M’s)
The M&M’s characters, each representing a different color of the candy, were introduced in 1995. These anthropomorphic candies were designed to give a unique identity and personality to each color/flavor of M&M’s.
The M&M’s don’t have a specific slogan, but they are tied to the brand’s famous taglines like “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
Each character has its distinct personality – Red is sassy and confident, Yellow is sweet and naive, Green is seductive, Blue is cool and rational, and Orange is paranoid and neurotic.
The Jolly Green Giant (Green Giant)
The Jolly Green Giant was introduced in 1928 by the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. He was originally designed to represent a particularly large variety of pea, and his look has evolved from a scary ogre to the friendly giant we know today.
The Giant is known for his deep, booming “Ho, Ho, Ho!” which became synonymous with the brand.
In 1978, the Jolly Green Giant was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest statue in the world, with a 55-foot statue built in Blue Earth, Minnesota, to honor the character.
Buzz The Bee (Honey Nut Cheerios)
Buzz, the friendly bee mascot of Honey Nut Cheerios, was introduced in the early 1980s. Buzz was created to appeal to children and adults alike, promoting the honey-sweetened flavor of the cereal.
Buzz Bee is associated with the phrase, “Bee happy, Bee healthy,” which aligns with the cereal’s wholesome, honey-flavored appeal.
In an effort to raise awareness about the declining bee population, Honey Nut Cheerios launched a campaign in 2017 where Buzz temporarily disappeared from cereal boxes.
The Quaker Oats Man (Quaker)
The Quaker Oats Man, also known as Larry, has been the symbol of Quaker Oats since 1877. The mascot was chosen for the Quaker faith’s values of honesty, integrity, and purity, which the company aspired to reflect in their products.
There is no specific slogan attached to the Quaker Oats Man, but he represents the longstanding quality and tradition of the Quaker Oats brand.
The Quaker Oats Man underwent a makeover in 2012 to make him look a little slimmer and more energetic, reflecting modern dietary and health consciousness.
Sun-Maid Girl (Sun-Maid)
The Sun-Maid Girl, representing Sun-Maid Raisins, debuted in 1916. She was based on a real person, Lorraine Collett, who was discovered drying her black hair curls in the sun while wearing a red bonnet – the look that became iconic.
The Sun-Maid Girl doesn’t have a specific slogan but is a symbol of the natural and healthy quality of the raisins.
The Sun-Maid Girl’s image on the packaging has been updated several times over the years to reflect a more contemporary look, yet always maintaining her recognizable features.
Chiquita Banana Lady (Chiquita Banana)
The Chiquita Banana Lady, also known as Miss Chiquita, was created in 1944. Originally a banana character, she was transformed into a woman in 1987. She was designed to educate consumers on how to ripen and use bananas, which were exotic at the time.
Miss Chiquita is famous for the jingle, “I’m Chiquita Banana and I’ve come to say – bananas have to ripen in a certain way.”
Miss Chiquita was one of the first animated characters used in advertising and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, symbolizing her impact on popular culture.
Iconic Advertising Campaigns
A successful campaign can elevate a brand from mere recognition to legendary status. But what truly sets these campaigns apart? Often, it’s the charisma and charm of a well-crafted mascot that captures the hearts and imaginations of audiences. In this section, we dive into the stories behind some of the most memorable food mascot-led campaigns in history.
1) Tony the Tiger – “They’re Grrreat!” Campaign
Creation and Creator: The “They’re Grrreat!” slogan was a brainchild of the advertising agency Leo Burnett. Tony the Tiger, created by Eugene Kolkey, was one of several potential mascots presented in 1952. The slogan and mascot were designed to embody the product’s energy and appeal to a youthful audience.
Campaign Origins: The concept behind Tony the Tiger and his catchphrase was to create an instantly recognizable symbol of quality and taste. The idea was to personify the product’s attributes – strength, vitality, and fun – in a character that would resonate with children and adults alike.
Purpose and Impact: This campaign aimed to associate Frosted Flakes with a positive, energetic start to the day. Tony’s robust declaration of “They’re Grrreat!” reinforced the cereal’s taste and quality. The campaign’s impact was monumental, making Frosted Flakes a household name and Tony one of the most beloved and enduring mascots in advertising history.
2) M&M’s – “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands”
Creation and Creator: The M&M’s characters were developed by the advertising agency BBDO in the early 1990s. The characters were designed to give personalities to each color of M&M’s, transforming the candy from a mere snack into a group of relatable characters.
Campaign Origins: The idea was to capitalize on the unique selling point of M&M’s – their candy coating that prevented them from melting easily. The characters were created to add a humorous and human touch to this attribute, making the product more memorable.
Purpose and Impact: This campaign aimed to build an emotional connection with consumers. By giving each M&M’s character a distinct personality, the brand created a deeper level of engagement and recognition. This approach not only highlighted the product’s unique feature but also set a new standard in confectionery advertising, making the M&M’s characters icons in their own right.
3) The Pillsbury Doughboy – “The Poke and Giggle”
Creation and Creator: The Pillsbury Doughboy, known affectionately as Poppin’ Fresh, was brought to life in 1965 by Rudy Perz, working at the Leo Burnett advertising agency. The concept of the Doughboy being poked in the stomach, leading to his signature giggle, was a creative choice meant to highlight his playful and endearing personality.
Campaign Origins: The “Poke and Giggle” campaign was rooted in the idea of making the Pillsbury brand more personable and relatable. The Doughboy’s reaction to being poked was designed to evoke a sense of warmth and happiness associated with home baking. The aim was to transform the routine of baking into a delightful experience.
Purpose and Impact: This campaign aimed to create an emotional bond between consumers and the Pillsbury brand. The Doughboy’s giggle upon being poked became an iconic and beloved aspect of the commercials, enhancing brand recall. This interaction was not just memorable but also set a new standard for how brands could create a direct, affectionate connection with their audience. The enduring popularity of the Doughboy, along with his giggle, underscored the success of this approach, making him one of the most recognizable and famous brand mascots in advertising history.