Behind 15 of food branding’s most iconic mascots

We’re constantly surrounded by advertising, in an inescapable whirl of words and colors and images. But it wasn’t always this way — there was a simpler time back in the Mad-Men era of advertising discovery and even many decades before that, when companies were on the search for something to help connect consumers to their brand.

For foods, with the convenient backdrop of packaging, came mascot design. These visual representations of brands have gotten to the point where they’re world famous, and people who haven’t even gotten the chance to try one of these products probably know the image if not the name of these characters. That’s how powerful a commercial tool they are. Take a look through 15 of the most iconic, and learn a bit more about when and why they came about:

1. Mr. Peanut

Mr Peanut

This gentleman legume reps Planters, was born to more humble circumstances, originating in the mind of 14 year old Antonio Gentile (he was paid $5 for the idea). The character was polished to perfection by commercial artist Frank P. Krize, Sr. This was back in roughly 1916, and by the 1930s this guy was well on his way to being one of the most iconic mascots in history.

2. Colonel Sanders

Colonal Sanders

Kentucky Fried Chicken’s mascot is modeled after the real thing, Colonel Harland David Sanders, the company’s founder. Though from Tennessee originally, he started selling fried chicken on the side of the road during the Great Depression. And as we all well know, his portrait is to this day the face of an international brand.

3. Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger

“They’re grrreat!” is the catchphrase of Frosted Flakes #1 guy, Tony the Tiger, and is almost as famous as the feline himself. Kellogg’s kitten is the creation of Leo Burnett Co., and was one of a cast of four originally repping the brand — Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu and Elmo the Elephant didn’t make the cut.

4. Ronald McDonald

McDonald

Despite being most of the time represented in real-rather-than-animated form, we couldn’t leave this one out of our collection — as you can see above, he does sometimes come to cartoon life. The character was created in 1963 and has been McDonald’s cultural attaché to kids ever since.

5. Buzz

Buzz

Honey Nut Cheerios’ anthropomorphized Honey Bee has been trying to woo customers into enjoying a big bowl of cereal in years of TV commercials. Our favorites are in the last couple of years, with the bee getting “urban” makeovers from stars like Usher and Nelly. And we mean that ironically.

6. Cap’n Crunch

Cap'n Crunch

This is just about all you need to know: Quaker Oat’s Horatio Magellan Crunch captains a ship called the Guppy, and was born “on Crunch Island in the Sea of Milk – a magical place with talking trees, crazy creatures and a whole mountain (Mt. Crunchmore) made out of Cap’n Crunch cereal.”

7. Miss Chiquita

Chiquita Banana

“First Lady of Fruit” is more than 50 years old now, though she doesn’t look it. She started out as an actual banana, dressed up in clothing and a fruit hat — drawn by cartoonist Dik Browne. That was until 1987, when another artist, Oscar Grillo, re-conceptualized her as the human woman who now graces each bundle of Chiquita bananas we get from the store.

8. The Jolly Green Giant

Jolly Green Giant

This green giant didn’t start so jolly! Though the character was originally conceptualized in 1928, he didn’t get his famous good cheer until a visual upgrade during the mid-1930s. And the artist? None other than Leo Burnett, founder of one of the largest advertising companies in the world today, which is also responsible for creating another couple of characters on this list — can you spot them?

9. The Quaker Man

Quaker Oats

Larry, as he’s sometimes affectionately by unofficially dubbed by Quaker Oats’ employees, is a true man of mystery. Though many guesses have been made as to who he is modeled after, the company claims the mascot is just a gentleman dressed in traditional Quaker attire. He’s also one of the oldest mascots still in existence, changed very little in the 130+ years he has been around.

10. Chester the Cheetah

Chester Cheetah

This guy has got sass, and his fame is just getting bigger and bigger. With his recent TV commercials, he’s shown in full computer-generated 3D form causing all sorts of mischief, while purring “Dangerously Cheesy” in his cool British accent. It’s the advertising incarnation of a 1950s “cool cat.”

11. Keebler Elves

Keebler

Most often pictured is the patriarch of the Keebler clan, “Ernest J. Keebler”, or “Ernie” as his friends like to call him. The whole crew, many of whom are named in all sorts of clever ways, lives and bakes their goodies in their tree, dubbed “The Hollow Tree Factory.” They were created in 1968 by — can you guess it? — Leo Burnett Worldwide.

12. The Kool Aid Man

Kool Aid Man

General Mills’ rather rotund character was created in 1954 by Marvin Plotts, who was inspired by watching his son draw on a foggy window. He’s gotten so famous that he’s made appearances on the Simpsons and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

13. Snap, Crackle, and Pop

Snap Crackle Pop

The first and only mascots on our list that come in a set. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies elvin representatives were designed by Vernon Grant in the early 1930s, to represent the onomatopoeia — Snap, Crackle, and Pop representing the sounds that the aerated rice makes.

14. Trix Rabbit

Trix Rabbit

This tricky rabbit’s debut was in a commercial in 1958, when he started his never-ending quest to try the sugary fruity cereal. Alas, he was always to be defeated in his attempts, to the taunts of children saying, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”

15. Mr Owl

Owl

This lollipop thief is here for a throwback — not quite as prolific a mascot as some of the other on the list, but certainly a well-remembered one by many of us, and the feature of a commercial that you can still see around from time-to-time. How many licks DOES it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

What are some of your other favorite mascots for food brands? Show us in the comments.

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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