Select: The history of iconic breakfast characters

How Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster sweet-talked us into breakfast

A sign featuring Tony the Tiger and a Keebler Elf. File photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A sign featuring Tony the Tiger and a Keebler Elf. File photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

 

I find it problematic that animated characters are used to target children in the ad campaigns of sugary breakfast cereals, especially because I know how deeply effective it was on me as a child.

I adored Tony the Tiger. I laughed, belly laughs, at the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster ads, and I really did put my ears next to Rice Krispies to listen out for Snap, Crackle and Pop.

So who are the voices and minds behind these iconic breakfast characters?

Snap, Crackle and Pop are the oldest and longest-running Kellogg’s characters. They popped onto the food mascot scene through radio adverts in 1928, the same year that Rice Krispies were launched.

The story goes that illustrator Vernon Grant heard the radio ads and was inspired to sketch a character to match the voices.

He sent his work to the ad agency looking after the Kellogg’s account at the time, and soon Snap, Crackle and Pop appeared in animated ads, sporting chef hats and representing the crispness of Rice Krispies.

By 1955, only Snap retained the chef’s hat, while Crackle wore a knit beanie and Pop wore his marching band cap.

The trio had a fourth brother (you did know they were brothers, right?) called Pow, who appeared in just two TV ads in the 1950s wearing space gear – which was de rigueur for most marketing cartoons of the day.

Tony the Tiger first appeared in 1951 and is a bona fide breakfast icon. For five decades, voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft was the source of the “They’re Grrrrrreat!” catchphrase in the US (the UK ads saw Tony being revoiced locally by an American actor called Tom Clarke-Hill).

You may also know Ravenscroft’s voice from his performance of the song You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch from How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

He also voiced cartoon animals and sang songs in Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Little Mermaid, among many, many others. His career as a voice actor spanned from 1940 until 2005, when he died at 91.

Tony the Tiger was first animated in 1951 by Eugene Kolkey, an art director at the ad agency Leo Burnett Co. Kolkey entered Tony in a competition to win the public’s affection.

Tony beat Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant and Newt the Gnu to grace the boxes of Frosted Flakes – or Frosties. Quartet Films, a group of former Disney animators, were given Kolkey’s early designs and came up with the final Tony that graced the box, launched in 1952.

Quartet Films were also responsible for the looks of Snap, Crackle and Pop, and the Jolly Green Giant.

In the US, Tony became increasingly anthropomorphic when he was given an Italian-American identity in the 1970s, with a classic Italian Mama character appearing in a series of TV ads.

In the UK and Ireland, Survivor’s emotive Eye of the Tiger often accompanied Tony’s appearance here.

Coco Pops were launched in the UK in 1961, and Coco the Monkey has been encouraging children in the UK and Ireland to eat chocolate-coated cereal since 1963.

In the late 1980s, Coco was joined by his pals Heapo the hippo and Croc the crocodile. Coco had a brief hiatus in the late noughties but seems to have been brought out of retirement in 2011 for TV appearances.

Honey Monster Puffs, formerly known as Sugar Puffs, were launched in 1957. Their first mascot was called Jeremy the Bear, and the monster didn’t appear until 1976.

The monster was created at ad agency BMP by creative director John Webster, the ad man also behind the Smash Martians campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s.

Honey Monster Puffs campaigns included You’ll Go Monster-Mad For The Honey, which saw children losing their minds when refused the sugary puffed cereal, growling “I Want My Honey!!” before combusting out of their clothes and turning into monsters themselves.

Our culture’s obsession with celebrities was reflected by our old friend the Honey Monster, when his 1990s ads saw him cosying up to famous folk.

He appeared on stage with Boyzone in 1996 and reinvented himself as Puff Daddy in 1999. Earlier, in 1988, poet John Cooper Clarke appeared in two ads with the Honey Monster and seemed to have a jolly good time doing so.

Our furry friend hasn’t been untouched by controversy however. In 2008, the Honey Monster was accused of ripping off The Mighty Boosh’s crimping style of singing in the Feed The Fun ad.

Boosh fans went ballistic online. Though the ad agency responsible, Bray Leino, remained silent on the controversy, the Honey Monster wrote on his official blog on the HM Foods website: My new ad has been getting loads of people talking . . . some people like our song, but it hasn’t made everybody happy, so I’m a bit sad about that.”

The ad was eventually discontinued, and though The Mighty Boosh creators Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt didn’t sue, they did reportedly blow the head off a Honey Monster likeness with a hairdryer on their Future Sailors tour. So, I guess that was closure on the crimping controversy.

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