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Reflections

Put a tiger in your tank? Lots of recent history in old ad campaigns : Reflections : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Put a tiger in your tank? Lots of recent history in old ad campaigns
by Roger Matile

1/28/2010

Green is the new buzz word of choice when it comes to energy. People are flocking to buy green cars that use gas-electric hybrid power systems and even some major oil companies are making a big deal out of their use of green technologies to heat and cool their gigantic corporate headquarters.

Time was, providing power, whether it was gasoline for our cars and trucks or electricity to run all those new appliances we were being sold through slick radio and TV commercials, simply wasn't seen as a problem.

Nuclear power plants, we were told in the 1950s, were going to make generating electrical power so cheap that electric meters would join buggy whips on the historical dust heap of once-common items no longer used.

That claim-no matter how laughable today-was drummed into our little heads along with all the other commercials on our new television sets. Who can forget that annoying little cartoon bird, named "Little Bill" (Get it? Bird? Little Bill?) singing that catchy tune: "Electricity costs less today, you know, than it did 25 years ago. A little birdie told me so-Little Bill!"

Any ditty ComEd would put on the air today would probably have to include some mentions about how Illinois has some of the most expensive electrical power in the Midwest and that their nuclear plants, which in the past tended to break down at inopportune moments, have now been sold off to enrich the already rich through "competition" in the power production business. I'm not sure what kind of perky cartoon character an advertising executive could come up with to make all that seem hunky-dory.

Little Bill is not the only advertising symbol to bite the dust over the past few decades, of course. Nor is Little Bill's ditty about low-cost electricity the only advertising slogan to go by the wayside.

Remember Esso Gasoline's "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" campaign? Back in the '60s, the company even came up with little tiger tails you could hook to the side of your gas filler door so it looked like you really did have a tiger lurking in your tank.

And speaking of gasoline, the guys out there might remember those really cool Sunoco stations with gas pumps that allowed you to dial up the amount of octane you wanted. People who went street racing usually filled up with 260 octane, the highest the dials allowed. It must have been pretty close to jet fuel.

And then there were the cereal ads. Sugar was once felt to be pretty good stuff for kids. Kids, after all, needed lots of energy and sugar is an energy food if there ever was one. Tony the Tiger used to plead with us to eat Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes. Nowadays, the flakes (which the Brits simply call Frosties) have been toned down a bit in the name department. They've become Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. We are not told exactly what they are frosted with, the company apparently figuring that if they don't mention the word "sugar" we won't figure it out on our own.

Same goes for Kellogg's Sugar Corn Pops. Wild Bill Hickock and his sidekick Jingles Jones used to hawk Sugar Corn Pops because, as we were told week after week, "Kellogg's Sugar Corn Pops; Sugar Pops are tops!" And they were good, too. Nowadays, we can't buy Sugar Pops, although we can buy boxes of Kellogg's Corn Pops, which seem about the same without actuallymentioning the word sugar.

And speaking of, remember Sugar Smacks? It was a cereal consisting of your basic puffed wheat covered with a brown sugar glaze. As noted above, sugar has gotten a pretty bad name among consumers these days, so the company decided to kind of sidestep the issue by touting the cereal's sweetness while also wrapping themselves in a cloak of a natural food. What have Sugar Smacks become? Honey Smacks! And Post Sugar Crisp is now called, with a presumably straight Madison Avenue face, Golden Crisp. It's a well-known "fact" that "natural" sugars (golden ones!) are much better for us than bad old refined sugars. Which is pretty much hogwash, (chemically, sugar is sugar), but giving consumers what they think they want or should want is a grand old American business tradition.

In other cases, progress has done away with perfectly honest advertising ideas. Take Gillette Blue Blades for instance. Originally, the company's steel razor blades were simple high-carbon steel, which rusted. But then someone got the bright idea of bluing them just like a gun barrel to keep them from oxydizing so easily. Gillette Blue Blades became an advertising staple of prize fight broadcasts on the radio and early television. But then the technology became available to make razor blades out of stainless steel, so then we were treated to Wilkinson Sword Blades (although no one ever really made a sword out of stainless steel during the era when swords were more than antique decorations).

In other cases, changing the ways services are provided have eliminated advertising campaigns, not to mention whole brands. Cities Service gasoline stations, for instance, would look pretty silly in this day and age of self "service." So they renamed them Citgo. And remember "The Man who Wears the Star, the Big Bright Texaco Star"? That motto was popular in the days when guys at gas stations wore uniforms and would actually rush out to fill your gas tank, wash your windows, check your oil and water, and provide...well...service at a service station. We were told we could "Trust the Man who Wears the Star," and lots of us did. For a fun trip down memory lane, check out this Texaco commrcial with Jack Benny and Dennis O'Day at youtube.com/watch?v=KFUEQiObfT8.

Old advertising slogans and ad campaigns tell us a lot about our recent history, and about the times in which they were hatched, just as today's slogans and ad campaigns tell us a lot about how our world has changed.




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