Frosty doesn't get a lot of respect, but in a new, meticulously researched nonfiction book, "The History of the Snowman," author Bob Eckstein argues that the three-balled wonder was one of the very first icons to be used in advertising and perhaps the most successful. How come?
Duh -- he's made of snow. He never complains or crashes his car or wakes up on the cover of the Enquirer. When he's found with a kilo of powdery white stuff, pack it on! And unlike Santa, whose sell-by date expires every Dec. 25, the snowman is not linked to a particular holiday or religion. He stays fresh all winter. And did I mention he's in the public domain? No royalties!
But above all, Eckstein argues, it is the snowman's easy-going persona that made him so popular. "The common man really related to this image of a friendly, overweight goofball. He blazed the trail for that sort of approachable figure." Think of all the fat-white-guy ad icons we know and love today -- the Michelin Man, Pillsbury Doughboy, Maytag Repairman and even Mr. Bubble -- "they're all kind of the bastard snowmen of advertising," Eckstein says. They owe the cold guy a cold one.
There was even an era when the snowman just might have chugged one down -- the era after the embarrassingly cheesy Frosty movie, when he seemed to be channeling Dean Martin.
The Frosty song itself has debased origins, penned, as it was, by two guys in a get-rich-quick scheme to echo the success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Gene Autry's 1949 rendition of "Rudolph" sold 2 million copies. Eager to repeat his success, Autry not only snapped up the Frosty song but also the guys' other craven holiday ditty, "Here Comes Peter Cottontail."
But we are getting ahead of ourselves in snowman evolution. Long before that song, or even sound recordings, salesmen handed out business cards. Who was often depicted on them? Yep.
That was in the mid-1800s. Then came magazines, and editors fell for the big flake. Norman Rockwell painted a snowman cover for the Saturday Evening Post twice. Over at The New Yorker, the snowman has graced more covers than any other figure.
By the time clever companies figured out that products moved faster when attached to an icon, they started using pitchmen, such as the (fat, white) Quaker Oats guy. For less-creative ad departments, Eckstein says, "The snowman was exactly what they needed."
And so you start seeing snowmen selling everything from laxatives to perfume to the Milburn Light Electric Car (1917). Eckstein's book reprints hundreds of these old ads, and they are just fantastic.
What he found in unearthing all this ephemera is that "whenever there has been a development in media, the snowman has been on the forefront." When postcards became all the rage, the snowman starred on postcards. When silent movies made their debut, he starred in one of the first. And now that we are in the internet age, there is even, alas, snowman porn.
The first recorded snowman porn actually was from 1511 Brussels. Guess you'll have to buy the book to read all about how the townsfolk went wild and sculpted snow couples in all sorts of surprising positions as a way to shock the church and get their ya-ya's out. Eckstein calls it the Middle Ages' "Woodstock."
Today the snowman is more kid-friendly but just as irresistible. Next time you see him, tip your hat.
If he tips his back -- get that video on YouTube.