The California Raisins: How A Bunch of Dried Grapes Became A Hit Band

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Pinterest

When Seth Werner, a 31-year-old copywriter at the ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, walked into the pitch meeting, he knew he had to put on a show. This client had been with his agency for over a decade, and though they'd had some fairly successful campaigns in the past, the client's main product was slipping in sales. Werner's big idea was going to be a risk, especially without the celebrity spokesperson the client had requested. And so, with a $7.5 million campaign on the line, Werner hit play and began dancing across the room to the old Motown hit "I Heard it Through the Grapevine."

First aired on September 14, 1986, Werner's idea for a 30-second television commercial introduced audiences to The California Raisins, a group of anthropomorphized raisins with expressive eyebrows, stylish shoes, and the slickest dance moves since the Chiquita Banana shimmied into advertising in the 1940s. People loved the singing, dancing Claymation raisins so much that more commercials followed, and—in a marketing scheme that was virtually unheard of at the time—The California Raisins went on to release four albums, score a Billboard Hot 100 hit, and earn an Emmy nomination (and appear in an Emmy-winning show). But how did a bunch of dried grapes, burdened with the reputation of being a mediocre, boring snack, become synonymous with swagger?

 

Commissioned by the California Raisin Advisory Board (CALRAB), a trade group of raisin producers in California’s Central Valley, the commercial was part of a multi-million dollar campaign to combat slowing raisin sales. CALRAB teamed up with advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding to try to forge an emotional connection between consumers and the dried fruit. The problem, FCB's account supervisor said at the time, was that though customers understood the health benefits of raisins, they had emotional connections with various vice products, like cigarettes because of the long-running "Marlboro Man" ads, or beer based on the popular "Miller Time" ads.

Werner and his copywriting partner, Dexter Fedor, knew that they needed to make the dried fruit less of an afterthought—the raisins needed personality. They needed to be the life of the snack bar. "We decided that we wanted the raisins to be cool and a bit intimidating," Werner said. The answer? High-top sneakers, sunglasses, and endless swagger. Werner and Fedor also thought that the commercial should use clay animation, a type of stop-motion animation using characters or settings made out of clay or other similarly pliable materials, rather than regular cartoon animation. And though the process is time-consuming and expensive, Werner's performance managed to win them over. CALRAB gave the "Grapevine" pitch the green light.

With a budget in hand, the agency hired Will Vinton, the Oscar-winning animator who would later trademark the term "Claymation," to help create their vision of dancing raisins. Vinton and his team hired human dancers to make the Raisins's dance moves look realistic. Because animators arranged each shot by hand, giving each raisin its own distinct personality (including individualized facial expressions and colorful sunglasses), the commercial took more than a month to shoot.

As for the music, the commercial featured Buddy Miles, a Carlos Santana collaborator and drummer for Jimi Hendrix, singing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"—picked because of the obvious connection between grapes and raisins, but also because the song had seen a resurgence after the Marvin Gaye version had been used for the opening scene of the 1983 hit movie The Big Chill.

Audiences quickly connected with the Raisins’ authentic R&B sound, and The California Raisins’ version of "Grapevine" even reached No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100. Between 1987 and 1988, the fictional band released four albums, two of which went platinum. More than 2 million people bought their albums and listened to the Raisins covering songs including "Lean on Me" and "You Can’t Hurry Love." Sales of raisins themselves increased 20 percent after the first commercial.

 

Musicians such as Ray Charles and Michael Jackson even got in on the raisin action, singing their own versions of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" for later commercials. Jackson, who agreed to do his commercial for free (and on the condition that he only work with Vinton, who he knew from their Captain EO project with Disney), helped create his own Claymation raisin with his signature single white glove, fedora, and pelvic-thrusting dance moves.

Besides appearing in short commercials, The California Raisins shared their musical chops in television specials. In 1987, Vinton featured the Raisins singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in A Claymation Christmas Celebration, a Christmas TV special he produced that won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. The following year, Vinton created another TV special called Meet The Raisins! The mockumentary-style show created a full backstory about the band’s rise to stardom and delved into the histories of each of the individual Raisins, who had names by this point—A.C., Beebop, Stretch, and Red. Needless to say, their band history borrowed heavily from the types of origin stories real bands tended to have. Then in 1989, a 13-episode Saturday Morning Cartoon show called The California Raisin Show aired.

 

But the Raisins’s influence went beyond just TV and music and began to invade all levels of pop culture. During the peak of their popularity in the late '80s, the California Raisins also had a fan club, merchandise that spanned from plush toys to lunch boxes to air fresheners, and a series of comic books. Post's Raisin Bran cereal took advantage of the increasingly popular dried fruit and teamed up with the Raisins to help promote their boxed cereal, and fast food chain Hardee’s bought a license to produce the incredibly popular collectible Raisins figurines.

Although Vinton made one last Claymation TV movie about the Raisins in 1990, the end of the '80s brought a decline in the Raisins’s popularity. It began to cost CALRAB too much to market the Raisins, and the public moved on. But thanks to the California Raisins, it’s now commonplace to see ads that include anthropomorphized food or candy. "The Raisins opened up a floodgate … everything had to be personified," Vinton told Food & Wine last year. While today’s commercials may depict M&Ms and cookies with unique personas, the California Raisins hold a special place as '80s pop culture icons.

7 Fast Facts About RollerCoaster Tycoon

Amazon
Amazon

For Windows gamers, 1999 was dominated by RollerCoaster Tycoon, a now-classic strategy and building game that tasked users with erecting an amusement park and gauging the popularity of rides while maintaining a profit margin and keeping patrons from barfing all over the landscape. For the game’s 20th anniversary, check out some facts about its origins, its association with pizza, and how it became a pinball machine.

1. The first RollerCoaster Tycoon sold 4 million copies.

RollerCoaster Tycoon was the brainchild of Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer, who had enjoyed success with his line of Transport Tycoon games in the 1990s that allowed players to build and operate their own railroad, truck, and ship lines. Sawyer decided to marry that concept with his love of roller coasters. An independent effort—Sawyer enlisted only two collaborators, artist Simon Foster and musician Allister Brimble—the first Tycoon game that was released in 1999 sold a staggering 4 million copies.

2. RollerCoaster Tycoon came free with frozen pizza.

In the early 2000s, packaged food companies offered products that came with promotional offers for CD-ROMs. In 2003, Pillsbury offered a free copy of RollerCoaster Tycoon to anyone who sent in proof of purchase barcodes from specially-marked boxes of Totino’s Pizza Rolls or Pillsbury Toaster Strudel.

3. There’s a RollerCoaster Tycoon pinball machine.

A pinball machine released to coincide with 2002’s RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 took the spiraling coasters of the game and put them under glass. Players could try and direct the pinball—a substitute for the park guest—around and through coasters like The Flying Ghost and The Rocket.

4. RollerCoaster Tycoon helped inspire Minecraft.

If you or a loved one has spent countless hours absorbed in the popular world-building game Minecraft, you have RollerCoaster Tycoon to thank. Minecraft creator Markus Persson was a fan of Tycoon for the way it allowed players to construct elaborate designs. He also enjoyed Dungeon Keeper, which had a fantasy element. Together, the two games encouraged him to develop Minecraft. The game debuted in 2009 and went on to become one of the biggest interactive success stories of all time.

5. RollerCoaster Tycoon inspired real roller coaster designers.

The laborious construction undertaken by players of RollerCoaster Tycoon weaned a number of players on the excitement of the amusement industry. Park designers hoping to break into the industry have used screen shots from the game as examples of their design prowess at trade shows.

6. You can get a spooky update of RollerCoaster Tycoon in time for Halloween.

Atari distributes an Android and iOS version of RollerCoaster Tycoon for mobile phone users. For 2019, the company is offering a Six Flags Fright Fest update to the game that adds a Halloween component. Players can add Skull Mountain, an actual Six Flags coaster, as well as a Demon Rock statue.

7. A RollerCoaster Tycoon fan spent 10 years building a park.

In 2017, a Reddit user declared he was finished building out his own custom park on RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. The 34 coasters and 255 attractions were all minutely detailed, offering a sprawling virtual park with themed areas covering everything from Egyptian attractions to a forest. In comparison, it took only four years to build the actual Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

10 Wild Scooby-Doo Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

For 50 years, the hard-working teens (and dog) of Mystery, Inc. have been investigating the paranormal. What began as a single Hanna-Barbera cartoon series—Scooby Doo, Where Are You!—in the 1960s quickly morphed into a franchise with multiple spin-off shows, comic books, and a few questionable movies. That adds up to a lot of spooky stories, which have inspired fans to come up with their own creepy (or just plain crazed) tales about Scooby and the gang. Here are some of their best theories, including one that somehow connects to Patrick Stewart.

1. Scooby is a Soviet space dog.

For all the cases that Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy solved, they never got to the bottom of the show’s most enduring mystery: How and why does Scooby Doo talk? Some fans think he can’t really speak—that it’s just something his buddy Shaggy imagines while he’s high. But one Redditor has a much more complicated and compelling theory based on the show’s 1960s setting. At that time, America and the USSR were locked in the so-called “Space Race,” competing to see who could claim the first achievements in spaceflight. The Russians famously shot Yuri Gagarin into the stratosphere in 1961, but he wasn’t the first Soviet in space. Canine cosmonauts like Laika beat him by several years, and if the USSR was willing to put a dog in a rocket, who’s to say they didn’t experiment on him first?

According to this fan theory, Scooby is a runaway from the Soviets’ classified space dog program, designed to breed pups capable of operating satellites and understanding radio commands. Scooby was the best of the bunch, the rare test subject who could understand and imitate human speech. Naturally, one of the scientists got attached and defected with Scooby to the USA. When that scientist died, Scooby found a new family with a group of friendly teenagers. But the CIA never stopped searching for this Soviet wunderpup, which is why Mystery, Inc. is constantly traveling by van—and why the original show is called Scooby Doo, Where Are You!

2. The show takes place during an economic depression.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

A classic Scooby-Doo mystery might take place at a theme park, museum, or mine—so long as it’s grimy and deserted. That’s a weird coincidence when you think about it: why are all these places so rundown? Well, that tends to happen when you’re weathering a financial collapse, and many clues indicate that’s just what’s happening in the world of Scooby-Doo. The towns he and his friends visit never seem to be doing well. No one has any money: Not the many scientists posing as monsters for cash, not the operators of every haunted attraction the gang investigates, and certainly not Shaggy and Scooby, who gorge on dog treats and lose their minds whenever they so much as smell a burger.

3. Mystery, Inc. is actually a cult.

Let’s break down the core members of the gang: You have Fred, the handsome and friendly frontman of the group. Then there’s Daphne, the fashionable and pretty one who mostly follows Fred around. Velma has the brains and Shaggy has full-blown conversations with a dog. When you really think about, doesn’t this all sound a bit like a cult? Fred would obviously be the cult leader, who recruits groupies like Daphne to obey his every command. Velma’s intelligence makes her a useful addition, and she could also be seeking acceptance from the “cool” kids. As for Shaggy, well, men who claim dogs can talk to them have a famously disturbing history—much like cult members.

4. They’re all draft dodgers.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You! premiered in 1969. Also happening that year? The Vietnam War. As able-bodied men (seemingly) over 18, Fred and Shaggy would both be eligible for the draft, which begs the obvious question: is Mystery, Inc. just a bunch of draft dodgers? The boys could be driving that van straight to Canada to avoid deployment, along with Fred’s fiancée Daphne and their antiwar activist friend Velma. Scooby’s stance on the war remains unclear, but he’s along for the ride.

5. Scooby Snacks alter your genes.

What if Scooby’s preferred treat is really a steroid capable of editing genetic code? It would explain why Scooby—and other members of his canine family, like Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Dum—can talk, as well as their ability to perform “completely ridiculous stunts.” (Also, if Scrappy-Doo is on steroids, it would explain why he’s always trying to fight.) But what about its effect on humans? As far as we know, Shaggy is the only person who eats Scooby Snacks, and he seems to have a freakishly high metabolism, considering the mile-high sandwiches he eats and his super skinny frame.

6. Fred drives the Mystery Machine because the real owner is too high.

Whenever the gang piles into the Mystery Machine, there’s only one person behind the wheel: Fred. Mystery, Inc.’s de facto leader is constantly driving his friends from one haunted house to the next, which would imply that the Mystery Machine is his car. But why would a clean-shaven, preppy kid like Fred own a lime green van with flowers plastered over the doors? That car obviously belongs to a hippie, and in this group, that’s Shaggy. His hippie lifestyle, however, may be the reason Shaggy never drives. He’s either lost his license from driving under the influence, or Fred is worried he will, so someone else serves as his designated driver.

7. Shaggy is Captain America’s son.

This theory starts with small coincidences, like the fact that Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Steve Rogers share a last name. Then it builds to something bigger when you factor in a detail from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While out on a morning run, Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) claims that Steve can run 13 miles in half an hour, a rate that breaks down to 26 mph. Shaggy, meanwhile, frequently keeps pace with Scooby, a Great Dane. Those dogs run up to 30 mph. Ergo, Shaggy is Steve’s son.

8. Monsters really do exist in the Scooby-Doo universe.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

Each time the gang catches a new “monster,” it always turns out to be a human in disguise, grumbling about how they “would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” Monsters, the show tells us over and over again, are not real. But this Reddit theory poses an important question: If monsters don’t exist, why is there a business dedicated to catching the fake ones? The fact that Mystery, Inc. keeps getting calls implies that “supernatural fraud” is an entire category of crime, one that wouldn’t make sense or work if people didn’t believe in monsters. Everyone in the Scooby-Doo universe also seems to accept monsters as a normal and everyday occurrence, suggesting that monsters are real—the gang has just never caught one.

9. Shaggy and Scooby are actors.

When danger calls, Shaggy and Scooby tend to run the other way. But what if the group’s most cowardly members were actually actors pretending to be scared of ghosts, monsters, and other paranormal entities? According to this fan theory, Shaggy and Scooby are faking their over-the-top fear in order to draw the monsters out. By posing as easy targets, they know they’ll get spooked first, and thus make it easier for Mystery, Inc. to trap the ghost/witch/pirate. That’s why Fred always pairs Shaggy with Scooby when they split up to investigate, and it’s why after many years of investigating the supernatural, the two of them still don’t seem remotely used to it.

10. Green Room is just a gritty Scooby-Doo reboot.

The 2015 horror movie Green Room is about a band with a van that squares off against an evil old Nazi. The Scooby-Doo franchise is about a team (that was supposed to be a band) with a van that squares off against evil old men (who could also, theoretically, be Nazis). You do the math.

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