Jon Stewart made some hay this week over the redesign of the Quaker Oats Man, one of the first trademarked images in the United States, created in 1877. What redesign, you ask? Well, he’s been slimmed down and reverse aged, looking leaner and younger than he ever has before. See for yourself:
Notable about the size-down is the way in which the marketers discuss the changes. “Five pounds thinner,” they say of the rework. How does one determine such things for a non-person who has only ever been depicted from the neck up? Is an exact figure predicated on the years of photoshopping done to fashion models? A flimsy guesstimate?
“Larry” the Quaker Oats icon is not the first age-old image to be resized into a slimmer figure. Take the case of the Campbell’s Soup kids, who somehow remained active despite their hefty size depictions:
It’s been a while since these children faced the resizing of the original illustrations created by Grace Weiderseim Drayton in 1904; they were slimmed down in 1983 by the artist who gave us the B.C. comic strip. At the time this change was called an “update” to the figures.
Pudgy people in advertisements were the norm in the early to mid-twentieth century, because a bit of roundness denoted ample resources and wealth. Gauntness wasn’t an aesthetic so much as an indicator of poverty or malnourishment. Perhaps advertisers like to focus on whatever isn’t the most common body type, but in any case, today the Campbell Soup Kids look like this:
Not only are they thinner but they’re active, damn it. Even though they were active before. Wait. They’re active and great passers. Or something.
Lots of familiar faces have gone through updates, especially when the product in question is slouching toward irrelevance. In the midst of the locavore movement away from processed foods, for example, the Green Giant got his own makeover. Before:
The legs are longer, not as thick as before (I’m trying to find a way to use “tree trunks” but failing). Biceps have less bulk, and once again, we see a thinner face like we do with the Quaker Oats man. But not those Campbell Soup Kids, whose faces are just as round as ever–I fear for their face edema, I really do.
Frozen vegetables may have fewer nutrients than their fresh counterparts, and more secrets about their manufacture than is readily available from one’s neighborhood agriculture share farmer, but hey, the Jolly Green Giant looks great, doesn’t he? And happy. I do want him to be happy.
All of these biggest loser moments make me wonder, though–why don’t all processed food mascots change to reflect our current values? Why are we still looking at these people on our shelves, for instance?
Oh wait, wait, Aunt Jemima has been updated. She used to look different: