Nothing seems to entertain more than those mini movies on TV that we call commercials. Commercials are so loved that even 20, 30, or 40 years later, people fondly recall their favorites from childhood, or even the new favorite viewed just the night before.
I most fondly recall the commercials from Saturday mornings when I would sit on the floor in front of the TV, watching cartoons in my pajamas. Mind you, this was way back when there were only 4 channels and the commercials were as much part of the fun as the cartoons! Personally, my faves include: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz!”, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”, “Ancient Chinese Secret!”, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”, and “Hey Mikey, he likes it!”.
That classic Life Cereal commercial where the older brother yells, “Hey Mikey!” was so memorable in so many ways because every kid could relate to it. A food that mom wants you to eat because it’s healthy, a friend who dares you to eat it, and then the pass off to the ignorant little brother who gulps it down because he doesn’t know what healthy is. And, guess what… he likes it! The commercial was so popular, it was named, “One of the 50 Greatest Commercials of All Time” by TV Guide! I mean, I know I fell for the marketing and begged for Life Cereal when I was a kid.
The funny ending to this story is about the supposed fate of Mikey. According to urban legend, Mikey ate a packet of Pop Rocks, chugged a Coke, and died when his stomach exploded. I’m not sure how or when this rumor started but I remember hearing it a number of times as a child and even today. People love these types of stories. However, it’s all untrue. “Mikey” or John Gilchrist, the actor, is alive and well and is now a radio ad executive in New York (which I think is quite the fitting profession for a pop culture icon).
General Mills, the maker of Pop Rocks, tried for years to dispel the rumors. Their customer service line took untold numbers of calls from nervous parents asking about the tale. In 1979, General Mills, desperate to quell the rumors, took out full-page ads in 45 major publications across the country, wrote 50,000 letters to school principals, and sent the inventor of Pop Rocks on a PR tour to explain their safety.
The rumors had done their damage, though, and by 1983 General Foods stopped marketing Pop Rocks. In 1985, Kraft bought the rights to the product, initially marketing it as Action Candy before reverting back to the original Pop Rocks name, where it now seems to be doing well on super market shelves. Perhaps the new generation of children do not know or remember Mikey, his “Life”, and his supposed fate. Although as recently as 2006, new rumors have popped up about a child in Brazil who died after swallowing Mentos followed by a Coca Cola chaser. These have not been proven to be true either.
Whatever the case may be, this is all a telling tale about how much brands can be helped or hurt by things out of their control and how much they become a part of the pop culture, good or bad, whether they want to or not.
And as a side note, it’s funny how Coca Cola didn’t seem phased by the hype. They never addressed the issue or seemed to be damaged at all by the stories. Maybe they are so big, such a large pop culture icon, and loved so much by Americans that no one wants to believe that they can do harm. Except to them selves… New Coke – 1985, but that is another blog altogether. Hey, thanks, Mean Joe!
Author: Marc Obregon, President, Accelerator Advertising, Inc.