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The Playboy Bunny

When Hugh Hefner was little, one of his prized possessions was “a blanket with bunnies all over it.”  Apparently, he never outgrew it – when he started Playboy magazine, he used the same bunny as his symbol.

The Jolly Green Giant

In the early 1920s, the Minnesota Valley Canning Company introduced a large variety of peas to the American market.  They called the peas “green giants,” and – because the law required it to protect their trademark – they put a picture of a green giant on the label.  Oddly enough, the original giant (lifted from a volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales) was white, not green; he looked like a dwarf, not a giant; and he wasn’t jolly – he was scowling.  His image eventually softened, and he became such a powerful symbol that the company changed its name to the Green Giant Company.

Betty Crocker

The Washburn Crosby Company, a Minneapolis flour maker, got so many letters asking for baking advice that, in 1921, they made up a character to write back to consumers.  They picked “Betty” because it sounded “warm and friendly,” and “Crocker” was picked to honor a former company director.  To come up with a signature for Betty (so she could sign “her” letters), the company held a contest for its women employees.  The winner – still used today – was submitted by a secretary.

Alfred E. Neuman

Mad magazine artists adapted their mascot from a turn-of-the-century advertising postcard issued by “Painless Romaine,” a dentist from Topeka, Kansas.  Romaine, in turn, had lifted his drawing from an illustration in a medical textbook showing a boy with too much iodine in his system.

Mad first dubbed the boy “Melvin Koznowski.”  But he was eventually renamed Alfred E. Neuman, after a nerdy character on the “Henry Morgan Radio Show.”  That character had been named after a real-life Alfred Neuman, the composer and arranger of more than 250 movie scores, including those for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Grapes of Wrath.

The Campbell’s Soup Kids

Grace Gebbie Wiederseim grew up in Philadelphia in the mid-1800s.  One morning when she was a young girl, she stood in front of her parents’ mirror and drew a picture of herself.  She liked it so much that she saved it.

In 1904, Grace was a successful illustrator and the wife of a Campbell’s Soup advertising executive.  One afternoon he asked her to help create an advertising campaign for Campbell’s.  She pulled out her childhood self-portrait . . . and used it to create Dolly Drake and Bobby Blake – the Campbell’s Soup Kids.

Poppin’ Fresh (The Pillsbury Doughboy)

In 1965, Rudy Pera was trying to design an advertising campaign for Pillsbury’s new refrigerated dough product . . . but he couldn’t think of anything that would make the brand stand out.  One day he began playfully pounding on a container of the dough, hoping to drum up ideas.  “I imagined what could pop out,” he recalls.  “A dough man?  A dough baker?  A dough boy!”

Ronald McDonald

Willard Scott, weatherman on NBC’s “Today Show,” was the first McClown.  Here’s the story he tells:  “The folks at the NBC television station in Washington – WRC-TV – had signed on a national kiddie show called “Bozo the Clown,” and they tapped me to star in the thing. . . . I did a lot of personal appearances as Bozo – at shopping malls, local fairs, that sort of thing.  After a while a local McDonald’s asked me to appear at an opening, and before too long my Bozo was a regular fixture at area franchises.  When WRC dropped the show, McDonald’s didn’t like the idea of having to drop a successful promotion.  They were hooked on clowns. . . . And so, you guessed it – Ronald McDonald was born. . . . He was almost christened Donald McDonald, but Ronald sounded just a touch more natural, so we went with that.”

The Quaker Oats Man

In 1891, seven oatmeal millers combined to form the American Cereal Company.  One of the seven was Quaker Mill of Ravenna, Ohio, which had trademarked the Quaker man 14 years earlier.  In 1901 the American Cereal Company changed its name to Quaker Oats, and the Quaker man was revived as its symbol.  The real Quakers weren’t too happy about this.  They tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to prohibit manufacturers from using religious names on products.