×

Once registered, you can:

  • - Read additional free articles each month
  • - Comment on articles and featured creative work
  • - Get our curated newsletters delivered to your inbox

By registering you agree to our privacy policy, terms & conditions and to receive occasional emails from Ad Age. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Are you a print subscriber? Activate your account.

OF ELVES & GNOMES BUILDING PRODUCTS THROUGH A KNACK FOR DEVELOPING ANIMATED CRITTERS LIKE GREEN GIANT, CHARLIE THE TUNA

By Published on .

If you had come to Leo Burnett Co. in the '60s and '70s and asked to see the head of the Department of Elves and Gnomes, they would have sent you to me.

It may have sounded demeaning, but to me it was a title I was proud to wear. We weren't just indulging ourselves turning out light-headed cartoon stuff; we were building our clients' brands.

Witness the Jolly Green Giant, Charlie Tuna for Star-Kist, Morris the Cat for 9-Lives, the Keebler Elves and the lonely Maytag repairman. Those campaigns all started about 30 years ago and they're still seen-some more than others, to be sure.

I'd worked on a number of campaigns with cartoon characters in my early TV days. There was Tony the Tiger for Kellogg's; "Little Bill" for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago; Chico, the Santa Fe Indian, who said "Santa Fe all the way"; and Hubert the Harris [Bank] Lion, whose line was "YOOOOOU should have a Harris banker."

Then along came the Jolly Green Giant, a favorite client of Leo Burnett himself, and one of his first accounts. The company wanted to test market a new line of "boil-in-bag" vegetables. It was a great product and the commercials not only worked, they blew all the fuses in the test cities and sold out the line so fast there was nothing left to test.

The company also wanted to see what we could do with TV for its canned vegetable line. The agency had tried TV before for these products, but with bad results. The "Giant" character was the problem. How to depict that big galoot on TV?

In the last and most disastrous attempt, the producers made a green rubber, dank, monstrous "Beast from 50,000 Fathoms" thing. It looked awful on TV and made babies cry and dogs run under sofas.

Here's a case, I told myself, where how you say it is more important than what you say. It was also important for a commercial about peas to contain enough "brand" content that it would rub off on all other vegetables, too. It should leave a viewer with a strong impression of a quality brand.

Brand image advertising was the prescription, and the "Valley of the Jolly (Ho, Ho, Ho) Green Giant" was born. That was the early '60s, and it was a thumping success. The client's research director told me he thought the campaign would burn out in two years, but I could tell it wouldn't.

For one thing, I'd tried to avoid the kind of gag humor that's here today, gone tomorrow. I stayed with charm. Humor wears out, but charm endures. And this campaign didn't reach its peak until perhaps its eighth year.

Much about what we learned about TV from the Jolly Green Giant we were able to use for other clients. For Star-Kist tuna, in a category where superiority claims don't come easily, we had Charlie the hapless tuna. Morris, the world's most finicky cat, focused on palpability and made 9-Lives the leading cat food brand.

When the Keebler accountcame to us, the brand was a faceless unknown. The company was formed from three regional bakeries with about 120 different cookies and crackers. It was clearly a case for brand advertising, but one where we had to start from ground zero.

To make a long story short, Keebler sounded like "cobbler." Cobblers (as in "Snow White") reminded us of elves. So we used elves in the advertising. It worked like crazy on TV and built Keebler.

A word of caution. TV is the greatest way to build a brand, but it can also be the fastest way to destroy one. We had a client in the food business that was afraid of losing share to some new competitors with new products. So the client hurriedly whomped up a product to compete. But it wasn't very good, and too little time was given to testing it.

We wrote the commercials and sold a ton of first-time buyers. But the people who bought it once didn't buy it again. We advertised that product out of existence inside of a year.

The effect of TV on Burnett-and the whole agency business-was enormous. I liked it, and I'd do it all again!M

Mr. Noel joined Burnett in 1956 and retired in 1980 as exec VP-creative services of Leo Burnett USA and chairman of its creative review board.

In this article:
Most Popular