Icon Artists

Deborah Cassell, managing editor

Just as every sports team has a mascot (Cubs, Bears and Hawkeyes are my faves), so do many brands use icons — from that tiny talking Chihuahua (“Yo quiero Taco Bell!”) to Schwan’s aerobatic Red Baron (and his real-life Pizza Squadron) — to sell their products.
At the foodservice level, every kid’s favorite clown — Ronald McDonald — faces off against the Burger “King” (who freaks me out, quite frankly), a red-haired Wendy and — to a lesser degree — the plaid-clad Big Boy. (Hardee’s is noticeably without iconic representation.) Meanwhile, KFC’s congenial Colonel dukes it out with Long John Silver, both of which are owned by Yum! Brands, Inc., Louisville, Ky.
Some characters are more beloved than others. According to www.FanPop.com, the 10 creepiest fast food icons include “the Quiznos rat/hamster thing,” the Dominos Noid (is he still around?), Jack-in-the-Box and Ronald’s purple pal Grimace (Barney’s distant cousin?). The site also asserts that the only thing scarier than Ronald McDonald or Mister Softee is the “King.” I completely agree.
At retail, the cereal aisle boasts the most marketing competition with its array of sugary figureheads, from Cap’n Crunch to buddies Count Chocula and Franken Berry, not to mention the Lucky Charms lephrachaun, the Trix bunny, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee and Snap, Crackle & Pop of Rice Krispies fame. And let’s not forget “The Simpsons’” Krusty the Clown, whose Krusty-O’s are both fictitious and delicious.
Snack-wise, the Frito Bandito (Ai-yai-yai-yai!) may be dead, but less controversial figures have since surfaced. The clever Keebler elves hold down the cookie/cracker fort, while the snack cakes category is led by Twinkie the Kid (Hostess with the mostess). Meanwhile, Planters’ Mr. Peanut shares shelf space with those ever-popular, personality-packed M&Ms.
Then there are the California Raisins. Many of us remember these dancing dried fruits — created by the California Raisin Marketing Board back in 1987 — from their days as a rhythm-and-blues group that grooved to the tunes of Marvin Gaye. Today, the raisins are alive and well (and still residing in California).
You might have heard it through the grapevine that they have a role in the upcoming animated film “Foodfight!” Featuring the voices of celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, Wayne Brady, Hilary Duff and Eva Longoria, the movie takes place in a grocery store and bills itself as “a story of what happens when good food ... goes bad.” The lead character, whose girlfriend, Sunshine Goodness, comes off the cover of a raisin snack pack, actually gets his strength from eating — you guessed it — raisins.
“Foodfight!” is not to be confused with the online short “Grocery Store Wars” (www.StoreWars.com), a parody of George Lucas’ cult classic in which organic products (led by Obi-Wan Cannoli, Ham Solo and Chew Broccoli) battle pesticide-infected produce (led by Darth Tater) for dominance in the supermarket.
Instead, “Foodfight!” pits brand-name offerings against private label items. Who wins that war on the big screen remains to be seen, but in stores, highly advertised products continue to dominate.
In a recent online competition, well-known brands squared off against one another for the title of Advertising Week’s Favorite Icon of 2007. Past winners have included the Kool-Aid Man, Juan Valdez, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Tony the Tiger. This year’s grand prize went to popcorn pundit Orville Redenbacher (ya gotta love the bowtie and red suspenders) and the Chick-Fil-A cows (who urge a nation full of red meatheads to “Eat Mor Chikin”).
Had I been casting a vote for best icon, my (unbiased) support would have gone to (my namesake) Little Debbie. Not only are Fudge Rounds, Swiss Cake Rolls, Star Crunch cookies and Oatmeal Creme Patties among my favorite childhood treats, but they still cost under $2 a box! And unlike many of the aforementioned mascots, Little Debbie isn’t make-believe. The founder of McKee Foods actually named the company’s snack cake line after his four-year-old granddaughter some 50 years ago. Today, Little Debbie is among the most recognized brands in America, proof that you don’t have to be royalty to hold court at retail.
How Slogan You Go?
Like brand icons, slogans go a long way to make (or break) a product. Match the following foodservice phrases with the right restaurant chains.
• 1. World’s greatest gourmet sandwiches
• 2. Do what tastes right
• 3. America’s drive-in
• 4. I’m lovin’ it
• 5. Have it your way
• 6. Think outside the bun
• 7. There’s fast food. Then there’s —
• 8. Eat fresh
• 9. What you crave
• 10. Famous for steakburgers
• 11. Taste how much we care
• 12. America runs on ———
1. Jimmy John’s 2. Wendy’s 3. Sonic 4. McDonald’s 5. Burger King 6. Taco Bell 7. KFC 8. Subway 9. White Castle 10. Steak ‘n Shake 11. Culver’s 12. Dunkin’ (Donuts)