Origins of 12 Modern Icons

McDonald's is certainly an icon, serving 52 million customers a day worldwide.
McDonald's is certainly an icon, serving 52 million customers a day worldwide.
©2007 McDonald's

Who knows what makes some images endure while others slip through our consciousness quicker than 50 bucks in the gas tank. In any case, you'll be surprised to learn how some of our most endearing "friends" made their way into our lives.


The AFLAC Duck

A duck pitching insurance? Art director Eric David stumbled upon the idea to use a web-footed mascot one day when he continuously uttered, "Aflac...Aflac...Aflac." It didn't take him long to realize how much the company's name sounded like a duck's quack. There are many fans of the campaign, but actor Ben Affleck is not one of them. Not surprisingly, he fields many comments that associate his name with the duck and is reportedly none too pleased.


Alfred E. Newman, the face of Mad magazine

Chances are you're picturing a freckle-faced, jug-eared kid, right? The character's likeness, created by portrait artist Norman Mingo, was first adopted by Mad in 1954 as a border on the cover. Two years later, the humor magazine used a full-size version of the image as a write-in candidate for the 1956 presidential election. Since then, several real people have been said to be "separated at birth" from Mr. Newman, namely Ted Koppel, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush.


Betty Crocker

Thousands of letters were sent to General Mills in the 1920s, all asking for answers to baking questions. Managers created a fictional character to give the responses a personal touch. The surname Crocker was chosen to honor a retired executive, and Betty was selected because it seemed "warm and friendly." In 1936, artist Neysa McMein blended the faces of several female employees to create a likeness. Crocker's face has changed many times over the years. She's been made to look younger, more professional, and now has a more multicultural look. At one point, a public opinion poll rating famous women placed Betty second to Eleanor Roosevelt.


Duke, the Bush's Baked Beans Dog

Who else to trust with a secret recipe than the faithful family pooch? Bush Brothers & Company was founded by A. J. Bush and his two sons in 1908. A few generations later, the company is currently headed by A. J.'s grandson, Condon. In 1995, the advertising agency working for Bush's Baked Beans decided that Jay Bush (Condon's son) and his golden retriever, Duke, were the perfect team to represent the brand. The only problem was that the real Duke is camera shy, so a stunt double was hired to portray him and handle all the gigs on the road with Jay. In any case, both dogs have been sworn to secrecy.


The California Raisins

Sometimes advertising concepts can lead to marketing delirium. In 1987, a frustrated copywriter at Foote, Cone & Belding was working on the California Raisin Advisory Board campaign and said, "We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine.'" With vocals by Buddy Miles and design by Michael Brunsfeld, the idea was pitched to the client. The characters plumped up the sales of raisins by 20 percent, and the rest is Claymation history!




Joe Camel

Looking for a way to revamp Camel's image from an "old-man's cigarette" in the late 1980s, the R.J. Reynolds marketing team uncovered illustrations of Old Joe in their archives. (He was originally conceived for an ad campaign in France in the 1950s.) In 1991, the new Joe Camel angered children's advocacy groups when a study revealed that more kids under the age of eight recognized Joe than Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone.


The Coppertone Girl

It was 1959 when an ad for Coppertone first showed a suntanned little girl's white buttocks being exposed by a puppy. "Don't be a paleface!" was the slogan, and it reflected the common belief of the time that a suntan was healthy. Artist Joyce Ballantyne Brand created the pig-tailed little girl in the image of her three-year-old daughter Cheri. When the campaign leapt off the printed page and into the world of television, it became Jodie Foster's acting debut. As the 21st century beckoned, and along with it changing views on sun exposure and nudity, Coppertone revised the drawing to reveal only the girl's lower back.


Juan Valdez

This coffee lover and his trusty donkey have been ensuring the quality of coffee beans since 1959. Back then, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Columbia wanted to put a face on the thousands of coffee growers in the industry. The Doyle Dane Bernback ad agency found one alright! By 1981, Valdez's image was so well known that it was incorporated into the Federation's logo. Originally played by Jose Duval, the role was taken over by Carlos Sanchez from 1969 to 2006. In his spare time, Sanchez manages his very own small coffee farm in Columbia.


The Gerber Baby

Contrary to some popular beliefs, it's not Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, or Bob Dole who so sweetly looks up from the label of Gerber products. In fact, the face that appears on all Gerber baby packaging belongs to mystery novelist Ann Turner Cook. In 1928, when Gerber began their search for a baby face to help promote their new brand of baby food, Dorothy Hope Smith submitted a simple charcoal sketch of the tot -- promising to complete it if chosen. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary because the powers behind Gerber liked it just the way it was. In 1996, Gerber updated its look, but the new label design still incorporates Cook's baby face.


Mr. Whipple

The expression "Do as I say, not as I do" took on a persona in the mid-1960s -- Mr. Whipple, to be specific. This fussy supermarket manager (played by actor Dick Wilson) was famous for admonishing his shoppers by saying, "Ladies, please don't squeeze the Charmin!" The people at Benton & Bowles Advertising figured that if, on camera, Mr. Whipple was a habitual offender of his own rule, Charmin toilet paper would be considered the cushiest on the market. The campaign included a total of 504 ads and ran from 1965 until 1989, landing it a coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. A 1979 poll listed Mr. Whipple as the third most recognized American behind Richard Nixon and Billy Graham.


The Pillsbury Doughboy

Who can resist poking the chubby belly of this giggling icon? This cheery little kitchen dweller was "born" in 1965 when the Leo Burnett advertising agency dreamt him up to help Pillsbury sell its refrigerated dinner rolls. The original vision was for an animated character, but, instead, agency producers borrowed a unique stop-action technique used on The Dinah Shore Show. After beating out more than 50 other actors, Paul Frees lent his voice to the Doughboy. So, if you ever craved Pillsbury rolls while watching The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky, it's no wonder ... Frees was also the voice for Boris Badenov and Dudley Do-Right.


Ronald McDonald

Perhaps the most recognizable advertising icon in the world, this beloved clown made his television debut in 1963, played by future Today weatherman Willard Scott. Nicknamed the "hamburger-happy clown," Ronald's look was a bit different back then: He had curly blond hair, a fast-food tray for a hat, a magic belt, and a paper cup for a nose. Ronald's makeover must have been a hit because today McDonald's serves more than 52 million customers a day around the globe.


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