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Image is Everything: The Evolution of Icons

Aaron Steinfeld

I have a confession to make; I have a bit of a news junkie living inside me, next to the fat kid that demands doughnuts and the other guy who thinks Spider-Man is spectacular. All that dissociative jibber-jabber aside, I occasionally find myself cycling through the basic cable channels on Sunday mornings. CBS Sunday Morning recently had a fascinating segment (as seen here) covering advertising icons and their evolutions from yesteryear up until today. While the clip didn’t showcase an entire cornucopia of recognizable characters, it did highlight enough to entice me to write something about it. (Did you know the current version of Mr. Peanut is voiced by Robert Downey, Jr?)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you no doubt have a smorgasbord of memories, ranging from youth to adulthood, of universally known, brand-based icons. Do you think of Tony the Tiger? Perhaps the Jolly Green Giant or Mr. Clean? Maybe you’re thinking of some long-forgotten icon such as the elusive yet memorable Boo Berry, the antiquated Speedy Alka Seltzer or the frantic Noid. Regardless of the brand, each and every icon has inspired not only memories and connections to products, but also been the catalysts of highly successful advertising campaigns. Can you think of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies or Mars’ M&M’s without their animated counterparts? The simple truth is that these icons have become ingrained not only in the brands they represent, but also pop culture to the point where we automatically connect them.

To see more samples of icon evolution, continue reading.

Evolution of Tony the Tiger: ~1960s | 1980s | 1990s | Current Evolution of Mr. Clean: ~1950s | 1980s | 1990s | Current Evolution of Green Giant ~1950s | ~1960s | 1980s | Current

Psychologically and socially speaking, it’s intriguing to see how these icons have evolved (and aged gracefully) over time. Tony the Tiger, for example, used to buddy up with his son during his earlier incarnations. Currently, with his family MIA, he encourages human children to get out and be more active while also readily participating in teamwork. The messages of Mr. Clean and the Jolly Green Giant haven’t entirely changed with time’s progression, though their overall appearances have received multiple upgrades. While you’re pondering why these evolutions have taken place, check out the samples to the left.

It’s not difficult to see that public relations, marketing and advertising work closely together toward an ideal shared result. After all, it takes a strong, memorable icon to positively represent a brand and promote it effectively. The best icons have grown beyond the confines of their brands and coexist in pop culture as well. Mastercard’s Icons commercial from the 2005 Super Bowl pulled together a horde of characters, further illustrating how embedded they’ve become in our lives.

Unfortunately, there are generally clear indicators as to why an icon will vanish from a brand’s stage. Was it not connecting with consumers enough? Did it make children or grown men weep out of fear? Or will the icon return after an unknown number of years to become revitalized and reapplied? And how much does your opinion matter? Looking back over the decades, its surprising to see just how many icons have fallen out of the public eye. Who will fall next? I’m looking at you, Snuggle… you adorable bear, you.

I’ll leave you with a few questions to discuss:
What icons do you remember from your youth? And, what makes an icon timeless? CJP

UPDATE: An interesting article just caught my eye, speaking of failed icons. Has anyone seen Cap'n Crunch recently? No?
"PepsiCo is no longer marketing Cap'n Crunch cereal directly to children. In a sense, you could say that they have retired Cap'n Crunch, and that's a good thing," Jennifer Harris, of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, told DailyFinance.  (Life Inc., Today)
RIP Cap'n Crunch.

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