10 Famous Advertising Icons

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Iconic advertising logos have catapulted some consumer products to celebrity status that has lasted for generations. But the logos we take for granted today often went through many changes before reaching their current state. Could it be that Tony the Tiger was almost a kangaroo? Are Aunt Jemima and the Gerber Baby real people? Here is a look at the stories behind 10 of the most recognizable advertising icons in the world.

10. Jolly Green Giant

General Mills’ Jolly Green Giant seems innocuous enough today, but Jolly’s image wasn’t so, shall we say, jolly in the beginning. He evolved from a troll-like figure to become a hand puppet for his first television commercial in 1953. For a later effort, an actor, dressed in a tunic, wreath and leaves, strode across farmland appearing larger than life, while background singers chanted an eerie, “Fo Fum Fi Fee.” Children were terrified. Legendary advertiser Leo Burnett softened the giant’s persona and toned down his larger-than-life presence so as not to frighten young viewers. The well-known “Ho, Ho, Ho” was created and the rest is history.


9. Tony the Tiger

Who hasn’t had a bowl of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and tried their hand at mimicking, “They’re Grrrreat!” Would this advertising be as effective if Tony the Tiger was Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu or Elmo the Elephant? These were actual design ideas from Martin Provinsen, who worked for advertiser Leo Burnett. It was finally decided in 1951 that Tony the Tiger would appear on cereal boxes for an ad campaign. The original Tony was an orange cat with black stripes, featured a blue nose and walked on all fours. Through the years, Tony has undergone multiple facelifts and had many body shapes, eye colors and stances. However, one thing that never changes with Tony or Frosted Flakes Cereal is … you guessed it, “They’re Grrrreat!”


8. Morton Salt Umbrella Girl

For almost a century, this little girl has graced Morton Salt products and has only needed a periodic wardrobe change … if only we all could be so lucky. The slogan was created in 1911 when Morton produced a revolutionary salt that would not clump in damp weather, a common problem at the time. Thus the company’s slogan, “When it rains it pours.” Fast forward to 1914. Good Housekeeping magazine planned to run a series of ads and Morton Salt needed a logo to go with their catchy slogan; hence, the umbrella, rain and a bag of salt. Take a closer look at the logo. Had you ever noticed the container she holds is pouring out salt?


7. Pillsbury Doughboy

Who doesn’t love the soft, round doughboy with the cute little laugh? Once again, the genius of Leo Burnett and his creative director, Rudy Perz, developed the idea in the 1960s after Perz thought of a doughy figure who would “pop” out of refrigerated rolls. Perz initially envisioned an animated character, but changed his mind after he saw the opening credits to The Dinah Shore Show, which employed a new 3-D effect known as stop-action tilting. America loved the new Pillsbury Doughboy so much that in 1972 he was voted “Toy of the Year” by Playthings Magazine.


6. Uncle Ben

We’ll say it right away — the logo for Uncle Ben’s Rice is based on a real person. Two of them, as a matter of fact. In the early 20th century, there was an African-American farmer named Ben in Houston whose rice crops won awards for their quality. Two partners in a new rice company were dining in a Chicago restaurant prior to World War II when the men decided to name their rice after Ben. For Ben’s image, they opted to use the restaurant’s maître d’, Frank Brown, who happened to be a friend. As with the Aunt Jemima logo (see below), some have criticized the Uncle Ben’s logo, especially its use of the phrase “Uncle,” a disrespectful term once directed at African-Americans by white Southerners. Today, Uncle Ben’s, now a product of Mars, Inc., can be found in more than 100 countries.


5. Aunt Jemima


The Aunt Jemima logo evolved from the minstrel/vaudeville song, Old Aunt Jemima, and was first used in 1889. In 1890, the company that made Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix hired a former slave, Nancy Green, to represent the brand. Green was the face of the company, which was renamed Aunt Jemima Mills, until her death in 1923. Green used the financial rewards she reaped from the role to work as an activist for anti-poverty programs. Through the years, the logo has come under fire from some for its perceived racial stereotypes, but most seem satisfied with the current icon, as the latest change to Aunt Jemima’s look came in 1989. Aunt Jemima products are now part of the Quaker Oats Co.


4. The Gerber Baby


Is this a real baby, or a drawing of the perfect baby? With round eyes, puckered lips, a button nose and that the curly flip on top of the baby’s head, the image seems to perfect to be a real baby. She was real, however. In 1927, Dorothy Hope Smith sketched the baby, who just happened to be her neighbor’s child, 4-month-old Ann Turner. Gerber used the sketch for ads in Good Housekeeping. The Gerber baby also had a famous father, Leslie Turner, who was the longtime syndicated cartoonist of Captain Easy.


3. The Quaker Man

Quaker Oats has been in existence since 1877 when the name and original trademark (a figure of a man in Quaker garb) were registered with the United States Patent Office. The current logo first appeared sometime around 1940, although it got a facelift in 1971. The exact identity of who is portrayed in the logo is a mystery. Some claim he bears a likeness to Benjamin Franklin, while others claim he is modeled after Pennsylvania founder William Penn. According to the Quaker Oats Co. website, “‘The Quaker Man’ is not an actual person. His image is that of a man dressed in the Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity and strength.”


2. Mr. Peanut

In 1916, Planters held a contest for someone to come up with a design for their peanut products. A 14-year-old from Virginia, Antonio Gentile, won the contest with his drawing of a peanut dressed in formal wear. Planters loved the idea and crowned him winner. A professional illustrator added a few touches to the drawing — a top hat, cane and monocle — and in 1918 Mr. Peanut made his debut in the Saturday Evening Post. Almost 100 years later, this product still features Mr. Peanut. Many in the advertising industry feel that Mr. Peanut is one of the best icons in advertising history. As for Gentile, his name will live on, but he only earned $5 in prize money.


1. Ronald McDonald

There is some debate about the originator of the world’s most famous clown, as both Willard Scott (who portrayed Bozo the Clown and later was the weatherman on The Today Show) and George Voorhis (who performed as a clown) claim to have been the original Ronald McDonald dating to 1963. Scott is, however, credited with appearing in the first TV commercials featuring Ronald. McDonald’s Corp. will not verify the creator, but Michael Polakovs (Coco the Clown) designed the costume and makeup that we associate with Ronald today. As the company works to remake its image as a place for healthier fare, Ronald’s role in the company’s advertising has diminished. He remains the face of the Ronald McDonald House, a charity that provides lodging for families of children undergoing medical treatment.

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