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The Advertising Century

Tony the Tiger

Published on .

PRODUCT: Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes (later Frosted Flakes)
DATE INTRODUCED: 1951
CREATOR: Leo Burnett Co.

Only one famous feline (sorry, Morris) can rightfully claim he's the cat's meow of commercials: Tony the Tiger.

Adland's premier promotional pussycat was born in 1951, when Burnett was hired to create a campaign for Kellogg's new cereal, Sugar Frosted Flakes. Tony was originally one of four animated critters created to sell the cereal, but he quickly edged out Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu and Elmo the Elephant to become the sole star of the cereal maker's ad efforts.

Tony's original designer, children's book illustrator Martin Provinsen, first created an orange cat with black stripes and a blue nose who walked on all fours. But like most celebrities, Tony has undergone extensive cosmetic changes over the decades.

The most dramatic alteration occurred early in his career, when Tony's football-shaped head was replaced with a rounder, softer form. That was followed by a series of other minor face-lifts such as an eye color change from green to gold and the addition of "whisker bones" and contours.

When America started heading for the health clubs, Tony also got a slimmer, more muscular physique. He's also risen in stature from a scrawny, cereal-box size pussycat who ambled on all fours to a 6-foot figure with a towering, upright stance.

One thing that remained constant for much of Tony's life was his voice. Thurl Ravenscroft provided the sole voiceover for Tony and his trademark growl: "They're Grrrreat!" In 1952, Tony's son, Tony Jr., was introduced into the campaign. And in the early 1970's, Mama Tony, Tony's wife; and Antoinette, Tony's daughter (born in 1974, the Chinese year of the tiger), also came on board. The expansion of the Tony family broadened his audience appeal.