Nothing in particular was going on for the day. I sat down at the computer thinking I might write a little something for a blog. But What? Of course, I consulted Prof. Google for some ideas. There are hundreds of potential blog topics that insist will be absolute winners, make you all kinds of money, draw in oodles of followers. Out of the few hundred I scanned, only one word caught my attention. It was mascot. As I contemplated mascot, it became evident there were any number of threads to follow. Back to Prof. Google hoping to zone in on one.
My starting point was the MerriamWebster dictionary for a definition. Mascot: “a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them good luck.” A personal mascot can come in the form of an amulet, a talisman, a charm and the like.
You may be familiar with some famous sports mascots such as the SanDiego Chicken of the San Diego Padres, the Phillie Phanatic of the Philadelphia Phillies, Benny the Bull of the Chicago Bulls, Sparty of Michigan State, the Oregon Duck of the University of Oregon, Brutus Buckeye of Ohio State to cite a few. When you look at teams from professional sports and colleges there are about a gazillion mascots. Their beginnings go back to the 1880’s.
Then there are the brand mascots also in the gazillions. What really caught my attention was the year of origin as well as how they came into being. Here are some that have not faded with time:
The Quaker Man, Quaker Oats – 1877
The Michelin Man – 1894
Sun Maid Girl for Sun Maid Raisins - 1915
Mr. Peanut by Planters – 1916
Jolly Green Giant – 1928
Elsie the Cow – 1930’s
Smokey the Bear - 1944
Tony the Tiger – 1951
Colonel Sanders - 1952
Mr. Clean – 1958
Pillsbury Dough Boy – 1965
Mario by Nintendo – 1981
Geico Gecko – 2000
In May 1915, a young girl named Lorraine Collett Petersen was asked to pose for a painting while holding a basket tray of fresh grapes. Lorraine had been outside drying her hair in the sun and was wearing a red sun bonnet (which was her mothers’ hat) when asked to pose. The result is the beautiful watercolor painting by artist Fanny Scafford that was originally the face of Sun-Maid Raisins, though the image has been altered during her raisin-reign over the past 100 years to make her appearance more reflective of the times.
The name Sun-Maid was created by advertising executive E.A. Berg in 1915. Berg believed that this name reflected raisins that were simply “made” in the California sun from fresh grapes. The classic “Sun-Maid Girl” trademark has been updated several times over the years but has always stayed true to the original image. An image which has been cherished by consumers around the world for generations.
Lorraine kept the painting and the bonnet until 1974 when she gave them both to Sun-Maid. The bonnet (now pink after years of fading) currently resides at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC after being donated in 1988.
Finally, there’s Morris the Cat, the famous finicky orange tabby, has been the face of 9Lives cat food (a product of Del Monte Foods) since 1969. With the sardonic voice of John Irwin, Morris starred in 58 commercials between 1969-1978, and helped create one of the most successful and memorable advertising campaigns in television history. Over the years, 3 different cats have played Morris. The original Morris was ironically named Lucky when he was discovered in 1968 at the Hinsdale Humane Society in Chicago. In fact, all of the cats to play Morris over the years have been rescues. As the most successful Spokescat in history, Morris had his own personal assistant, received numerous marriage proposals from both felines and humans over the years, and has appeared in several movies as well as TV shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show. Once called the “Clark Gabel of cats,” Morris is said to have been the prototype for the Garfield comic strip. When the original Morris, aka Lucky, died in 1978, his obituary was seen in newspapers all over the country.
Though his early beginnings were in advertising, Morris the Cat is highly regarded for his volunteer work. He’s promoted responsible pet ownership, pet health and pet adoptions through animal shelters across the country, and is an accomplished author. In 2006, he kicked off a campaign known as Morris’ Million Cat Rescue. Throughout his career, Del Monte Foods has gone beyond using Morris as simply a mascot to promote their product. Never forgetting his roots, they have used Morris’ fame to bring awareness to the plight of cats and kittens in animal shelters. “9Lives believes that every cat deserves a forever home. We are so proud of the Morris’ Million Cat Rescue campaign, which successfully placed one million cats in new homes and helped educate the public."