10 Corporate Advertising Characters From Their Early Years

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One of the world’s most famous women celebrates her 95th birthday this year. And Betty Crocker is still going strong, as the brand name for a popular line of General Mills products. While Betty Crocker is certainly one of the older corporate marketing characters, a number of other popular advertising icons have been around even longer. In most cases, the first appearances of these characters bear little resemblance to the images we are so familiar with today.


10. Mr. Clean

An ad for Mr. Clean in 1958, the year he debuted.

Mr. Clean celebrated his 50th birthday in 2008. Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Clean is not based on a genie; Procter & Gamble modeled Mr. Clean on a U.S. Navy veteran.


9. Cream of Wheat

A Cream of Wheat ad from the early 1900s.

Early Cream of Wheat packaging introduced in 1893 featured a stereotypical black figure known as Rastus, a pejorative term for black men. The ad shown above is extremely offensive to look at today, but reflected the social mores of the early 20th century. The logo has been repeatedly updated through the years.


8. Burger King

Burger King’s “king” from 1955 through 1968 certainly looked friendlier than the much-maligned “Creepy King” the company used in recent years. © Burger King

A few years ago, Burger King dumped that bizarre, plastic-faced king mascot that people widely ridiculed as “Creepy King.” As the above illustration shows, Burger King’s mascot from 1955 through 1968 certainly looked more friendly and approachable.


7. Toucan Sam

The original Toucan Sam spoke Pig Latin.

Toucan Sam’s appearance has evolved slightly since his introduction in 1963, but the big change is his language. The original Toucan Sam spoke Pig Latin, telling kids about the joys of “Ooot-Fray Ooops-Lay.”


6. Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger has been the face of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes since 1951. This ad appeared in a 1955 ad in Life Magazine.

The face of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes made his first appearance in 1951. It wasn’t long before kids everywhere could mimic the catchphrase “They’re Grrrreat!” For more than five decades, voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft served as the voice of Tony; he’s best known for singing You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch in the holiday classic. As Ravenscroft noted in an interview in his later years, ”I made Tony a person. For me, Tony was real. I made him become a human being and that affected the animation and everything.”


5. Jolly Green Giant

The first Jolly Green Giant introduced in 1928 has been likened to a mean caveman and looks nothing like the friendly character featured in the company’s ads today.

That first Jolly Green Giant image from 1928 looked like a mean caveman. The image got its first makeover in 1936 and has since evolved into the more mature, friendlier, greener-looking JGG everyone knows today.


4. Quaker Oats

The Quaker Oats man made his debut in 1877.

Quaker Oats’ website maintains that its iconic symbol is not modeled on anyone in particular. But literature from more than 100 years ago suggests the original Quaker Oats man was modeled on Pennsylvania founder and noted Quaker William Penn. It debuted in 1877 as a symbol for the Quaker Mill Co. in Ravenna, Ohio, one of four companies that merged in 1901 to create the Quaker Oats Co.


3. Aunt Jemima

A 1909 ad featuring Aunt Jemima.

For obvious reasons, Aunt Jemima’s appearance has changed dramatically through the years. First appearing in 1889, Aunt Jemima was portrayed for many years at public appearances by a former slave, Nancy Green.


2. Betty Crocker

The original image of Betty Crocker, featured in a 1936 painting (left), and the current image. © General Mills Inc.

Many people assume Betty Crocker is a real person. In fact, the old Washburn Crosby Co. created the name in 1921 to use as a personalized reply in letters to customers. The name paid tribute to retired company director William Crocker, but with “Betty” used to make it sound warmer. In 1936, a prominent New York artist created the first image of Betty Crocker for General Mills Inc., blending the features of several female company employees into one image. That image has evolved through the years, but Betty Crocker is still one of the most recognized marketing symbols in the world.


1. Michelin Man

Introduced in 1898, the Michelin Man is one of the oldest trademarked images in the world.

Most people don’t realize two things about the ubiquitous Michelin Man seen in commercials and tire stores: The figure has a name, Bibendum, and it’s one of the oldest trademarks in the world. The Michelin Man first appeared in 1894. And why is Bibendum white? Because at that time, tires were a lighter color, not black.

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