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.


A Vintage Quaker Oats Optical Illusion

Classic Wendy Kaufman, The Snapple Lady

The Real Things – Modern Santa and Mexican Coke

Coca-Cola was in the news multiple times this year, with much ado about the mythic “secret formula.” In February, PRI radio show This American Life investigated a story that the secret formula to Coca-Cola had actually been uncovered in a 1979 newspaper article. In early December, Coca-Cola moved the original secret formula from the vault at SunTrust Banks, where it had been for 86 years, to a “World of Coca-Cola” museum in downtown Atlanta.

And a December 1st Wall Street Journal article reported that 2011 holiday edition white Coke cans, featuring polar bears, were going to be pulled from shelves earlier than originally planned. The main reason cited was consumer confusion with Diet Coke cans. One side note was that some consumers believed that the Classic Coke in the white cans tasted different. This would not surprise the branding and package design community, as research has proven that consumers cannot always separate product from package. Coca-Cola responded by posting a “fact sheet” to help consumers distinguish between the two varieties.

But the Holiday season always brings back ruminations on one of the most successful branding and advertising campaigns of the last century. If Coca-Cola advertising did not in fact define the modern image of Santa Clause, as Coca-Cola brags, the company was certainly instrumental in propagating the image to the masses. The urban legend Grinch, Snopes.com, debunks the “Coca-Cola Created Santa” myth to a degree, citing a short 1927 New York Times article, which claims that Santa Clauses in the city had become very similar to one another by then.

Four years later, in 1931, Coca-Cola introduced a Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, which would become the standard for the next 30 years in frequent magazine advertising and marketing campaigns.

It’s certainly no secret that Coca-Cola in the U.S. uses corn syrup in its formula, and that Mexican Coca-Cola still contains 100% cane sugar and is still sold in glass bottles. Many devotees seek this product out at Mexican specialty food stores, but the product is becoming more widely available. Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, Mexican Coke has been spotted in CostCo stores and at local beer distributors.

The biggest erosion of the consumer Coca-Cola experience has come from the convenience trend. The public has been tricked into believing that a plastic bottle or can of Coke can be reasonably enjoyed anywhere anytime. Sad to say, consumers expectations have been lowered enough that they accept the quick degradation of temperature after opening — and the consequent degradation of experience, or pleasure.

So, my holiday gift to you is: Treat yourself and rediscover the highest expression of the Coca-Cola experience. Follow this forgotten formula to the letter and you won’t be disappointed. The crispness of flavor in the original brand experience is still unmatched. It’s quite different from what you’ve come to know.


1 Glass Bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola (U.S. Coca-Cola, if unavoidable)
5 Ice Cubes, standard size
1 Unchilled Glass, wider at the top than at the bottom
1 Healthy Dose of Nostalgia

Chill bottle overnight to 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. This step ensures that your Coke will not be watered down by excessive ice melt. Add ice cubes to glass. Open bottle with bottle opener (Mexican bottles!). Pour Coke into glass slowly as to not create too much fizzy head. If fizz dies down and leaves the liquid more than a quarter-inch below the rim, top off glass to within a quarter-inch of the rim. Wait five minutes for liquid to chill completely.

Take a healthy first gulp. Swallow. Enjoy. You’re welcome.


That is the real thing.


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