R.I.P. Larry the Quaker Man – Redesigned and Redefined

Another American institution will soon be gone forever. A younger, trimmer Quaker Man has taken Larry’s place.
Early in the 20th Century, the chairman of Quaker Oats said: “If the business were split up – I would take the brands, trademarks and goodwill, and you could have all the bricks and mortar – I would do better than you.”
A brand can be a delicate construct, an embodiment of trust and attachment, only to be tampered with carefully. Of course, Pepsico is going for an evolutionary change, not revolutionary. But the jury is still out on which it is, as the real voters are, naturally, the consumers.

Longtime Quaker Oats spokesperson Wilford Brimley is angry. No, not really, it’s a Stephen Colbert bit. But Steven makes an interesting point by way of comedy, comparing Larry’s “plastic surgery” to other hypothetical brand icon makeovers. He rhetorically ponders how much better Toucan Sam would look with a nose job, the Michelin Man would be after lap-band surgery, or the Aflac duck might after breast augmentation.
Pepsico has done well with many product and line extensions that leverage the “parent” brand of Quaker. Even Life Cereal was watched over by the caring and trustworthy Larry. Especially dangerous to the Quaker brand is that consumers may now learn his name. It would have been much easier to let him go if he had less of a permanent identity. It’s the same reason you don’t name pet pigs that may one day be dinner.
Larry in his most recent form was born in 1946 at the hands of graphic designer Jim Nash (colorized in 1957 by Haddon Sundblom). He will surely be missed. The new logo adds the “Est. 1877” to remind consumers of the heritage. It could be argued that it was the strength of the previous logo that this history reminder was unnecessary. The logo expressed the deep trust associated with a long run of quality products.
Brand communication strategy is sometimes the whole ball game. When you have an institution like Larry, it’s impossible to say all that you might be giving up by letting him go.

One very nice lady
Another brand story related to the Quaker Oats Company is the Snapple brand. Hopefully, some readers recall Wendy the Snapple Lady, in the early ’90s, who would answer “Fan Mail” on TV commercials.
This was direct brand-to-consumer dialogue, and she would even go out and meet loyal customers. The lovely woman had to be partially responsible when sales went from 23 million dollars to reach 750 million dollars per year in the ’80s and early ’90s.
If you recall the Quaker Oats quote about the value of a brand from the beginning of this blog post, there is deep irony here. When Quaker bought the Snapple company in 1994, they couldn’t see the value of the accessible brand identity developed through Wendy’s consumer interaction. During the dark “Quaker Years,” they dropped Wendy and the brand struggled, and Quaker ended up selling the brand at a huge loss.
In 1997, new owner Triarc Beverage Group CEO Mike Weinstein immediately rehired the Wendy, stating “Wendy is the essence of the brand.” He also ran a parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City celebrating Wendy’s return and a new flavor: Wendy’s Tropical Inspiration.
More recently, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group took all the fun out of the Snapple packaging with a redesign that instead emphasized its “all-natural” positioning. In an effort to stave off the expansion of the natural tea market, it also ran TV ads with the tagline: “The best stuff just got better.” I didn’t see—and still don’t see—how that is possible.

BONUS LINKS

A Vintage Quaker Oats Optical Illusion

Classic Wendy Kaufman, The Snapple Lady