Those Unforgettable Breakfast Cereal Ads, Part 2

Trix are for kids!

It’s amazing how many icons created by advertisers to sell cereal during the time of our childhoods still exist today. For example, take the Trix Rabbit. He was born the same year I was, in 1959. Its creator was Joe Harris, an adman for General Mills. He sums up the astronomical success of the campaign:

“As a result of the success of the commercial, the little-known Trix brand suddenly leaped into the national consciousness and became one of General Mills’ best sellers. My line, ‘Trix are for kids’ became a countrywide mantra. It still is, 43 years later. I believe it may be that Trix is one of the oldest, if not the oldest commercial in existence to have sustained itself with the same character, the same selling line and the same plot since I created it.”

He likes it! Hey Mikey!

The undisputed single greatest commercial has to be Life’s Mikey spot. This ad first appeared in 1972 and was shown for an incredible twelve more years in its original format! Read what the Life Cereal folks have to say about it:

Although the commercial has not been shown regularly on TV for many years, people still remember the finicky four-year old. A recent research study revealed that 70% of adults could identify the Life Cereal ad from just the description! And, in 1999, the “Mikey” commercial ranked number 10 in TV guide’s, “The 50 Greatest Commercials of All Time.”

Here it is on Youtube.

Another pitchman who survives to our day is L.C.Leprechaun, born in 1964. He would wave his magic wand and create “yellow moons, green clovers, orange stars, pink hearts.” The lineup has since been expanded with more items, but those are the ones I grew up hearing about.

Cap’n Crunch is still around, too. He was born the year that JFK died. Sailing the tall seas on the S.S. Guppy, he and Sea Dog (and his crew of kids) would face many a Saturday morning thirty-second battle with Jean LaFoote, the barefoot pirate.

Wow, I’ve barely scraped the surface of the myriad commercials we watched for breakfast cereal. Look for more columns on the subject in the future.

Those Unforgettable Breakfast Cereal Ads, Part 1

Sugar Crisp box, circa 1965

How many hours did we spend stretched out on the living room floor or crashed on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons? And how many thousands of ads for breakfast cereal did we take in, often while consuming the very product that was being hawked?

When I think back on television ads, it seems that a majority of them were for cereals. I watched a lot of TV that was aimed at kids, and the cereal manufacturers knew that they didn’t have to impress our moms. They just needed to make us kids want the products, and we would nag and cajole the rest of the way to the ultimate goal of a sale at the supermarket.

Sugar Bear was a very familiar face. Once the diminutive ursine had a bowl of Super Sugar Crisp, there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish, including bailing Grannie Goodwitch (voice of Ruth Buzzi) out of jams.

But it wasn’t just Sugar Crisp. We were exhorted by Tony the Tiger to enjoy Kellog’s Sugar Frosted Flakes. And if you can’t remember what Tony the Tiger said, you have no business reading this. 😉

The Honeycomb Kid would ride a white horse to persuade us to purchase the strangely-shaped cereal that would hold its crispness in milk. And purchase it we, or rather our harried mothers, did, in large numbers. Honeycomb was good for munching right out of the box while Leave it to Beaver was on after school.

Man, no wonder I had a mouth full of fillings by the time I was a teenager.

Then there were the Smack Brothers. Their routine went thusly:

Oh give me a smack, a wonderful smack . . .
The singer is punched by his sibling.
And since you’re me brudder, I’ll give you anudder!

Now keep this in mind. I have viewed lots of commercials on YouTube. But I haven’t heard this particular Sugar Smacks commercial since it last aired on network television, probably around 1970.

That is some testament to the power of commercials on kids.

Tune in tomorrow as we spend some more time dusting off some old breakfast cereal ads from our childhoods.

Those Red Plaque Disclosing Tablets

Plaque-disclosing tablets

We Boomers in school were used to having our health enhanced, as well as our minds. For instance, in elementary school every year, a dental technician would show up with posters, free toothbrushes for all, and something ominous known as plaque detection tablets.

The posters were scary, too. They would show what happened to little kids who DIDN’T brush their teeth regularly. Yikes, talk about some ugly rotted images.

The results of chewing plaque-disclosing tablets

But the scariest thing was popping those red tablets in your mouth for the first time. It was the first grade for me, and I remember some kids crying because they were frightened by the scarlet pills. But the teacher tried to reassure them, while still pointing out that resistance was futile. You WILL have your plaque exposed.

And boy, did we have plaque. It seems that we were all hopelessly incompetent at brushing our teeth. The dental technician would shake her head in sad wonder. Then, she would educate us on avoiding the future embarrassment of failed plaque detections.

The problem was that we just weren’t brushing hard enough or long enough. So we were trained to brush our teeth in such a way that would virtually guarantee future receded gums. Up like a rocket, down like the rain, back and forth like a choo-choo train. For at least five minutes.

A shorter brushing session followed by flossing was a better idea, but nobody was doing that in 1966.

True, the dental tech’s advice on brushing might have been overzealous by today’s standards, but I look in the mirror today and see a healthy set of forty-seven year old choppers. My father, raised in rural Minnesota through the Depression, had a set of dentures by the time he was forty. Baby Boomers as a whole have managed to keep their original teeth, thanks in large part to those ominous red plaque detecting pills.

Those Old Flat Barbecue Grills

Vintage barbecue grill

Man has long had rites of spring. Once upon a time, it was the pagan festival of Astarte (from which we derived the term Easter). The Druids would celebrate the equinox at Stonehenge. But in the 1960’s, it was the annual purchase of a cheap flat barbecue grill.

These grills could be obtained at places like Western Auto, Otasco (a local home/auto chain store based in Oklahoma), Sears, Montgomery Wards, and other pre-Wal Mart establishments. They ran about ten bucks or so in their most basic form.

They consisted of thin steel painted blue or red. The cheapest ones were simply flat cylinders about three feet in diameter and four to six inches in depth, with two brackets diametrically opposed allowing you to move the grill itself up and down over a range of six inches. They sat upon tubular legs which placed them about 36″ high.

However, if you were willing to spring for a few extra bucks, you could get yourself a deluxe model with a windscreen.

As tight with a buck as dad was, I remember we always had barbecue grills with the wind screen. As a matter of fact, circa 1971, we had one with a motorized spit, which would slowly turn a whole chicken or roast while you went inside and watched the baseball game.

The thin metal which comprised the grills meant that you bought a new one every year. That paint would soon begin flaking off, and the grill would begin to rust. By fall, it was looking pretty sad. When it got too cold to cook outdoors, it would simply sit in the weather and continue to deteriorate, until it would be disassembled and consigned to the trash.

It was possible to get a second year out of it if you kept it out of the weather. But the heat from cooking would still get to the paint and make them ugly.

Of course, along with the grill was kept the supply of charcoal briquets and starter fluid. The briquets needed to be kept dry, else they would swell up and become nonburnable. Starter fluid came in a tin vessel that was about eight inches tall, four inches wide, and two inches thick. It had a popup plastic spout, so you could turn it upside down and liberally douse the charcoal (piled into a heap in the middle of the grill) in the hope that you would have a beautiful bed of glowing embers upon which you could cook your burgers.

Vintage flat grill

However, what was more likely to happen was that you would fail to let the fluid soak in thoroughly enough. A match would cause the pile to flame brightly, but it would soon go out, with the bare edges of the charcoal lightly glowing, giving you a vague hope that cooking would be taking place within the next thirty minutes.

That necessitated spraying more fluid on, which would quickly burn off, but creating slightly more glowing edges to the briquets. And you needed to let EVERY TRACE of that fluid burn off, else your food would have a distinctive petroleum distillate tang to it.

Time to go get a beer and let it set.

Finally, with the wind building up and blowing ashes and such all over the yard, your pile of briquets was ready to be spread out and the grate placed over it, so those burgers could begin their transformation into delightfully delicious treats to be eaten off of paper plates.

There were better grills like Weber Kettles back then, but most suburbanites and small-town dwellers simply purchased the inexpensive flat grills year after year.

Nowadays, I cook on a gas grill (with a spare bottle ready to spring into action) that has a vinyl cover to keep it dry from the elements. I take advantage of the heat that gathers in the upper confines of the enclosure to slowly bake thick steaks, making them delectably perfect, slightly pink in the middle. And my top secret marinade in the fridge makes them taste like heaven on earth.

But while I tend my grill, which is durable enough to last for years, I sometimes let my mind wander back to dad making some pretty darned good tasting meals on inexpensive sheet-metal contrivances that were purchased every spring.

The Whitman’s Sampler

Vintage Whitman Sampler ad

When I was growing up, my mom and dad would periodically get into a squabble. Like all husbands, each incident was 100% his fault. He was smart enough to recognize this, thus he would frequently negotiate a make-up session by driving to the local Rexall’s and purchasing a very powerful female sedative: the Whitman’s Sampler.

The venerable Sampler got its start in 1912. Whitman’s Confectionery was founded in Philadelphia in 1842. Stephen Whitman knew his craft well, and his candy was a success. Sometime in the early 1900’s, Walter Sharp was hired as sales manager. The aptly-named Sharp took Whitman’s candy to a higher level, aggressively pushing the products to drug stores, where it is still found over a hundred years later. In researching this piece, I was reminded that it was always the drug store where dad would buy them.

Anyhoo, in 1912, Sharp put a variety of chocolates in a divided box and called it the Sampler. The distinctive box design was based on a hand-made cross-stitch by his grandmother. Printed on the inside of the lid was a guide showing what each candy was.

It was a good design. That is testified to by the fact that 98 years later, it is still manufactured in its original form, or close enough that Mr. Sharp would instantly recognize it as familiar.

Whitman’s Sampler survived the Depression, two world wars, and the economic twists and turns of the 70’s. In the 40’s, celebrities were featured in glossy magazine ads. Get this: the celebs were paid in Whitman’s Samplers! So they were obviously sincere in praising the product, willing to work for it. The depicted Bob Hope had a very famous happy lifelong marriage to his beloved Dolores, no doubt aided by periodic gifts of the Sampler.

Whitman’s has also been very supportive of American troops overseas. In practically every conflict of this and the last centuries, servicemen have been sent Whitman’s Samplers. Another nice tradition is that the boxes would often contain handwritten notes of encouragement.

Bob Hope recommends Whitman’s Sampler

But this blog is about Boomer reminiscences, so back to the subject at hand.

Mom would always generously share her Sampler with me. Thus, I have many warm memories of wolfing down solid chocolate messenger boys, my personal favorite. The cherry cordials were heavenly, too, but mom thought so too. End of story.

The Sampler, as practically everyone already knows, is a sturdy cardboard box that contains, not one, but TWO trays of delicious chocolaty goodness. One of my earliest delightful discoveries was that once you emptied the upper tray, there was that equally loaded twin underneath!

You know, I’ve spent the rest of my life looking for hidden trays.

As mentioned earlier, not only has the Sampler survived, but it’s almost identical in appearance to the ones we recall, and the ones our parents and grandparents may have remembered, as well. They are still carried in drug stores, too.

But they have kept up with the times. For instance, you can now purchase a sugar-free Sampler. And you can purchase Samplers online, too, direct from the factory, and have them delivered to your door.

Take my advice, husbands. The best way to get out of the doghouse is to trek down to the local drug store, plunk down your 14 bucks, and hand-deliver a Sampler to the offended mate, along with a sincere apology.

Ahh, nothing like making up. 😉

The Seven Up Candy Bar

Wrapper from a Seven Up candy bar

There was a company in St. Paul, Minnesota called the Trudeau Candy Company. It began marketing a candy bar (I never found out when) called the Seven Up Bar. I have no idea how they managed to avoid being sued by a certain soft drink manufacturer.

Anyhow, in 1951, the Trudeau Candy Company was bought out by Pearson’s Candy Company. They continued to market the unique candy bar until 1979. Then it was gone.

The Seven Up bar was an incredible confection. It consisted of seven individual compartments coated in delicious milk chocolate. The seven compartments were stocked with the following fillings: cherry, coconut, caramel, fudge, jelly, maple, and Brazil nut.

It was incredible. Part of its appeal was that it wasn’t sold just anywhere. In my hometown of Miami, Oklahoma, dad had to drive to a certain store that sold the delicious treat to get one for mom. As I recall, it also had a premium price.

Under those circumstances, I didn’t get to eat that many of them. But the ones I DID eat were heaven. The jelly was the best part, and, of course, it would be saved for last.

I didn’t always remember where it was in the arrangement of cubicles, so a test bite might have to be performed.

Here’s to a unique, long-gone delight: the Seven Up Bar.

The Milkman Cometh

60’s milkman

I just barely got in on this memory. We had a Meadow Gold milkman who would come by twice a week, delivering two-quart bottles of milk with a cardboard stopper. There would be a knock at the door, followed by a call of “Meadow Gold!” Mom would have left the empty bottle on the porch, and the milkman would replace it with a fully topped-off complement.

Milkmen originally delivered their product in pint or quart bottles daily. The reason was that homeowners had iceboxes before WWII. They kept food cool, but opening the door more than a few times a day meant the coolness would be more like lukewarmness.

That leads to another memory. Did anyone else out there grow up referring to their refrigerator as an icebox, courtesy of your parents’ lingo?

As the years wore on, iceboxes were replaced by refrigerators that became more and more affordable. By the 1960’s iceboxes were gone. But housewives who had never known anything but milk being delivered to their doors continued to patronize local dairies that would bring milk, eggs, cottage cheese, and other products directly to the home.

I’m not sure when Meadow Gold discontinued home deliveries. I know they stopped for us about 1967, but I’m not sure if it was because of being discontinued, or because my thrifty father decided it was too much of an expense. In researching this article, I discovered that at least one dairy in Longmont, Colorado was still making home deliveries of less-than-24-hour-old-milk in returnable glass bottles as recently as 1997.

The milkman’s regularity in making early morning deliveries led to such classic joke’s as Rodney Dangerfield’s “I’m depressed! I saw my kid and the milkman going to a father-and-son dinner!” A milkman or two might have been invited in for a cup of coffee by an amorous housewife, but in reality, I’m sure it was a rare occurrence.

Nowadays, milk comes in an ugly plastic gallon jug with a date stamped on it. You can still get food delivered to your doorstep, courtesy of the Schwann’s man. But the days of leaving returnable bottles on your porch, to have them replaced by the milkman, are long gone.

I wonder If I have a cold beer in the icebox?

The Milk Duds Box Whistle

60’s Milk Duds box

What a bargain. Plop down five cents on the counter, walk out of the store with not one, but TWO prizes. A delicious ooey-gooey chocolate caramel treat, and a whistle for after you were finished eating the sticky globules of delight!

Of course, I’m speaking about Milk Duds, and the slick little whistle the box made when you tore the tabs off of one end.

Milk Duds were a classic candy that closely resembled what you find in the bottom of a rabbit cage. Despite that rather unseemly resemblance, the confection has been a hit since the 1920’s.

I’m not sure who discovered that the box would create a miniature woodwind instrument. All I know is that my earliest memories of Milk Duds involve eating them as fast as possible (and that’s not very fast, with all that chewy caramel), pulling the waxed paper liner out of the box, ripping the flaps off one end, and blowing vigorously into the makeshift clarinet.

The sound would often annoy girls, yet another added bonus.

After a while, the cardboard would absorb enough of your saliva that you would toss your musical creation into the trash. But let’s do a little math:

Cost of the candy: five cents.
Cost of the instrument: no additional charge.
Getting to annoy your cousin Cynthia: priceless.

The Cyclamate Ban

1967 Diet Rite ad

In 1937, Illini graduate student Michael Sveda was working on trying to synthesize an anti-fever medication. Like all health-conscious individuals of the era, he was having a smoke whilst working. Laying it on the table for a bit, he picked it up and was surprised that the tip tasted quite sweet. That taste prompted him to do more research and seek a patent.

Eventually, he sold the patent to DuPont, which sold it to Abbott Laboratories. Abbott saw commercial potential to using the product as a low-calorie sweetener. So they went through the laborious process of getting FDA approval, and obtained said certification in 1950.

Initially, Cyclamate was prescribed as a drug for the obese. In 1958, it received approval as a food additive. By 1960, a sweetener called Sweet*10 was a big hit in the US. It would make food, drinks, etc. sugary sweet with practically no calories!

What’s not to love?

Soon, Cyclamate was used for sweetening a host of products. Canned fruit, Jell-O, Funny Face drink mixes, and sugar-free candy were among the plethora of products that weight-conscious consumers, each having a sweet tooth, purchased by the boatload.

Moms loved it. The sugar rush that THEIR moms had long put up with from their children was now a thing of the past! Kids could drink a whole pitcher of sugar-free Kool-Aid and not be wired to the gills!

Not only that, but those same moms could enjoy a very sweet cup of coffee or glass of tea and not worry about the pounds that were being added to their frames.

Sweet 10 ad from 1961

In 1963, Coca-Cola introduced a Cyclamate-sweetened drink called Fresca. I loved it at first taste, and my mom was happy to see me taking in less sugar. Believe me, I was already wired enough!

Again, what’s not to love?

Enter FDA scientist Jacqueline Verrett. In 1969, she appeared on NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report with photographs of malformed chicks who had been injected with large quantities of Cyclamate. The images were shocking, and viewers were immediately filled with doubts about the safety of the low-calorie foods that they had been scarfing down.

A few days later, a study was released (from Abbott Laboratories themselves) that showed that eight out of 240 rats that had been fed the equivalent of 350 cans of soda a day had developed bladder cancer.

Interestingly, the study involved feeding the rats both Cyclamate AND saccharine. The results weren’t blamed on one sweetener over the other.

Anyhoo, the FDA reacted with a ban on Cyclamate on October 18, 1969. It completely caught the food industry off-guard.

Cyclamate-free Fresca and Tab. No, it doesn’t taste better.

Soft drink manufacturers scrambled to come up with another sugar-free solution. The most obvious, saccharine, left a bitter aftertaste that turned this life-long Fresca drinker into a Squirt fan. Funny Face started telling consumers that they would need to add sugar to their mixes (they did drop the price from 10 cents to a nickel for the trouble). Some added sugar (in smaller quantities) to their formerly Cyclamate-sweetened products. One bizarre example of spin was done by Coke with Tab. A TV commercial I remember well used a song to inform the public that Tab used sugar in order to taste better than it would have with saccharine. The tag line? “Tab tastes good enough for GUYS!”

I’ll bet Gloria Steinem loved that.

Nowadays, we have Splenda to sweeten our diet drinks with no discernable aftertaste in the US. Hooyah, I’m drinking Fresca again! But in many industrialized nations, Cyclamate is still used. And no, bladder cancer rates (or any other of the other bad stuff that Cyclamate was accused of causing) aren’t any higher than over here. The Cyclamate ban probably hurt the process of the banning of dangerous substances as a whole, simply because of the backlash that came from the public after learning of the truly astronomical amounts of the substance that test animals were given. Heck, Verrett’s baby chicks would have looked like crap if they had been force-fed that much WATER!

But, for better or worse, it happened. And it’s a memory that we Boomer kids can recall if we try, again, for better or worse.


60’s Tang ad

In 1957, General Foods began developing an orange-flavored breakfast drink in powdered form. In 1959, the year that Barbie and I were born, Tang began showing up on store shelves.

Its initial impression on the public was tepid at best. After all, what was wrong with good old frozen orange juice? You could also get Donald Duck orange juice in a big can (although it tasted like crap to this six-year-old). Why buy powdered orange drink?

Well, six years later, we found out why. Because the ASTRONAUTS drank Tang out in space!

Tang became a monster seller, thanks to kids like me who would endlessly nag their mothers into getting it at the local IGA. Mom probably liked the idea that I was drinking something which purported to be healthier that Kool-Aid.

However, the rush for us kids was in drinking something that was also the beverage of choice for those who would sail among the stars.

Original Tang jar

So we would mix up some Tang, grab a couple of Space Food Sticks, and head out to the yard to explore other planets. A football helmet might be worn as a substitute for the space version. A big box would sever as the space capsule. That was all a kid’s imagination needed to spend the afternoon in orbit.

Why did Tang go into space? A NASA engineer summed it up: “There was a particular component of the Gemini life support-system module which produced H2O. This was a byproduct of a reoccurring chemical reaction of one of the mechanical devices on the life-support module. The astronauts would use this water to drink during their space flight. The problem was, the Astronauts did not like the taste of the water because of some of the byproducts produced. So Tang was added to make the water taste better.”

The result was huge sales for General Foods for their previously unnoticed product. Tang was used on the Gemini and Apollo flights, although Buzz Aldrin said the Apollo 11 astronauts drank a similar but different grapefruit-orange mixture on the first moon flight.

Tang played up its use in space heavily in its advertisements, and that kept sales humming. Even as the space program wound down, I still found myself seeking out Tang because of its coolness.

And it’s still around, although it is now greatly diversified compared to its classic orange incarnation we grew up with.