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10 Parents, Kids and Spouses of Popular Advertising Characters

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YouTube

You know the Pillsbury Doughboy, Elsie the Cow and Tony the Tiger, but many of the advertising mascots we know and love have lesser-known wives, husbands, kids and even parents. Pop a breath mint and be on your best behavior, because it's time to meet the families—and one who probably is family, paternity test pending.

1. The Pillsbury Doughboy has a huge family, all with awesome, pun-tastic names. The Doughboy himself is actually named Poppin' Fresh and his wife is named Poppie Fresh. They have two roly-poly children named Popper (the son) and Bun Bun (the daughter). There's also GrandPopper and GrandMommer, plus Biscuit the cat and Flapjack the dog. Every now and then, Uncle Rollie makes an appearance, and once, Poppin' Fresh's mother made him crescent rolls in a commercial.

2. Geoffrey the Giraffe has been instrumental in getting your kids to demand a stop at Toys "R" Us since the 1960s. Gigi is Geoffrey's wife. Geoffrey's daughter, Baby Gee, was introduced in 1973, followed by son Junior (a.k.a. Geoffrey Junior) in 1979.

An ad from 1965. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

3. Sonny the Cocoa Puffs bird (you know, he's cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs) gets his name because when he first appeared in commercials, he was accompanied by Gramps, an elderly bird who liked to tease him with the chocolate-y cereal. Gramps was eventually replaced by kids who tormented Sonny instead.

4. Elsie the Cow from Borden Dairies was "married" to Elmer the Bull from Elmer's Glue. Seriously! They were real-life animals at the Borden company that ended up representing Borden products. They even had babies, including Beulah, Beauregard and twins named Larabee and Lobelia.

5. Snap, Crackle and Pop, the Kellogg's Rice Krispies elves, have another brother named Pow. Pow was supposed to represent the explosive nutritional value of the cereal, but four elves proved to be too many cooks in the kitchen, and Pow was, um, detonated.

6. Tux, the adorable Linux penguin, has a female companion. Unsurprisingly, her name is Gown.

7. Jack Box (of, you guessed it, Jack in the Box) has been married to his lovely wife, Cricket, for many years, and they have a son named Jack Jr. and dog, Max.

8. Tony the Tiger has quite the family we don't often hear about. Right from the start, Tony had a son named Tony Jr., but we weren't introduced to the rest of the fam until the '70s, when Mama Tony, Mrs. Tony, and daughter Antoinette (not pictured) were given air time. Tony Jr. graduated to become the face of his own cereal in 1975—Frosted Rice—but it didn't last long.

Getty

9. RCA has been using Nipper the dog since way back when Nipper was hearing "His Master's Voice" come out of an Edison-Bell phonograph. He was based on a real dog by the same name (so-called because he bit everyone, which is charming) who died in 1895. Nipper's "son" Chipper started appearing in RCA ads in 1991.

10. As far as we know, Sprout is not the Jolly Green Giant's son. He's just an apprentice. An apprentice who happens to look like a miniature version of the big man himself. Hmm. There aren't exactly a lot of green giants running around the world for Sprout to have come from, and the other characters in the classic commercials are usually human farmers. Seems suspicious.

This piece originally ran in 2010.

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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