From representing frozen vegetables and packaged cake mix to fast food and automobile tires, ad icons became the personifications of businesses in the 20th century, many of which grew to become dominant brands in their fields — thanks in large part to their famous icons.
Many of the most famous ad icons were the brainchild of one agency: Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co., which specialized in building brands through the use of enormously popular characters, including the most effective icon of all time.
Click ahead to see that and the rest of the top 10 ad icons of the 20th century as compiled by AdAge.com and recognizing "those images that have had the most powerful resonance in the marketplace." The criteria include effectiveness, longevity, recognizability and cultural impact.
By Kirsten Chang
Posted 10 August, 2011
CNBC Titans: Leo Burnett premieres Thursday, Aug. 25 at 10 p.m.
Date Introduced: 1939 (first general magazine ad)
Creator: Stuart Peabody, Borden's director of advertising
Created in the 1930s to change the poor image many had about dairy processors, and then being represented by a live cow, Borden Dairy Company’s behemoth bovine married Elmer the Bull (of Elmer’s Glue) and had baby calves Beulah and Beauregard. Named one of the top 10 ad icons of the century in 2000, Elsie has also been named Queen of Dairyland in Wisconsin and honorary chief of the Seneca Indian Tribe. She has earned such honorary university degrees as Doctor of Bovinity, Doctor of Human Kindness and Doctor of Ecownomics.
Date Introduced: 1951
Creator: Leo Burnett Co.
After the icon’s introduction, Tony the Tiger began to be humanized in the 1970s. He was given an Italian-American nationality and a full family—Mama Tony, Mrs. Tony, daughter Antoinette and son Tony Jr., the slimmer, buffer version of Tony who actually serves as the official Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes mascot today. In 1974, Tony graced the cover of GQ and was named “Tiger of the Year” in an advertising theme borrowed from the Chinese Year of the Tiger.
Date Introduced: 1898
Creator: Idea conceived by Edouard Michelin; artist's rendition created by O'Galop; DDB Needham Worldwide handled later executions
The world’s favorite tubby tire icon was created to resemble a man made of tires, back when tires took on either a grayish-white or light, translucent beige color (before carbon was added as a preservative). He is also mute to represent the strong, silent type. The Michelin Man’s real name is Bibendum—meaning “drinking to be done” in Latin and referring to the notion that the firm’s new pneumatic inflatable tires could “drink up obstacles” on the road without going flat—while the word “michelin” in Spanish has acquired the meaning of “spare tire,” or folds of fatty skin around one’s waist.
Date Introduced: 1893
Creator: Chris Rutt/Davis Milling Co.
In 1893, the trademark icon for the Quaker Oats Company originally portrayed a stereotypical black “Mammy” wearing an apron and bandana around her head to symbolize the nurturing appeal of southern traditions and domestic cooking dating back to the late 1800s; former slave Nancy Green was the firm’s original spokeswoman. Starting in the 1960s, several petitions were sent to the firm to ask it to remove its first logo depicting a black woman in an outdated and perpetually subservient role. Quaker Oats updated the image several times; in 1989 Aunt Jemima became a more modern and progressive black woman with no scarf on her head, a pair of pearl earrings and a lace collar.
Date Introduced: 1965
Creator: Leo Burnett Co.
Officially known as Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy was created by Rudy Perz in 1965 as he was sitting in his kitchen, under pressure to create an advertising campaign. Perz imagined a living doughboy popping out of a Pillsbury Crescent Rolls can. The Pillsbury Doughboy was eventually made into a seven-inch, highly collectible, vinyl doll that gained a family in the early 1970s: wife Poppie Fresh, son Popper, daughter Bun Bun, Grand Popper, Gran Mommer, Biscuit the cat, Flapjack the dog and Uncle Rollie.
Date Introduced: October 1989
What began as a parody of TV advertisements from rival company Duracell to advertise the indefatigable strength of its batteries turned into the wildly popular battery bunny and Chief Bunny Officer (CBO) of Energizer—the Energizer Bunny. Energizer seized the opportunity to play up the parody when Duracell failed to renew its patent in the U.S. Several U.S. presidential candidates, including George H. W. Bush in 1992 and Howard Dean in 2004, have compared themselves to the Energizer Bunny, saying they “just keep going and going.”
Date Introduced: 1921
Creator: Washburn Crosby Co., a forerunner of General Mills
General Mills’ cultural icon and brand name was developed in 1921 to represent a fictional food expert and give a personalized response to consumer product questions—the name Betty was thought to be a cheerful, all-American name consumers could relate to. In 1945, Fortune magazine named Betty Crocker the second most popular American woman, next to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
At left, Betty Crocker through the years.
Date Introduced: 1928
Creator: Minnesota Valley Canning Co.
When the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, General Mills’ canned and frozen vegetable company, first marketed its new canned peas by using a grumpy, grayish-white gnome as its mascot, the company met with little success. But when the firm hired Leo Burnett to revamp the mascot’s image in 1928, the new icon—a smiling green giant clothed in a tunic of leaves—was so successful the company changed its name to Green Giant in 1950. The town of Blue Earth, Minnesota, now houses a 55-foot fiberglass statue of the Green Giant on Route 169, south of Interstate 90, that attracts roughly 10,000 visitors each year.
Date Introduced: 1963
Creator: McDonald's franchisee Oscar Goldstein and his local ad agency
According to a poll taken by Stunning-stuff.com, Ronald McDonald is the second-most recognized icon in the world next to Santa Clause. In 2010, Corporate Accountability International suggested McDonald’s retire the mascot due to childhood obesity concerns, but CEO Jim Skinner said he had no plans to do that and was planning to reintroduce Ronald in 2011 commercials.
Date Introduced: 1955
Creator: Leo Burnett Co.
Created for the Philip Morris tobacco company, the cool, rugged Marlboro cowboy initially served as a way to reposition Marlboro from a "Mild as May" ladies cigarette to a product with broader appeal since only women smoked filtered cigarettes before and the previous ad image was of an elegant young woman. Despite not being able to run ads in teen magazines, the company had $5 billion in sales in 1955—a number that skyrocketed to $20 billion in sales in 1957.
"CNBC Titans" profiles remarkable people who made careers turning the “unthinkable” into reality and companies that grew from humble roots to worldwide recognition.
Get the real stories behind some of the most famous icons, the greatest companies and the giants of industry who helped build them. Discover the key to their fortune and the passion that drove their success. They changed the world and how you do business — and lived to tell the tale.
CNBC Titans: Leo Burnett premieres Thursday, Aug. 25 at 10 p.m. ET