Posts filed under ‘Marketing’
Frank Mars introduced this one in 1923. It has been a hit ever since, although you can see that our current version has evolved a bit from these rustic beginnings.As you can see in the vintage image, the Milky Way was originally all about the nougat. And in the early days, the nougat was packed with sliced almonds–later, the almond, caramel and nougat would be reworked into a different candy bar. The caramel, which now shares top billing, was at first just a drizzle. And size mattered: note the repeated references in this ad to “actual size,” which was in fact massive, about 4 inches long and nearly 2 inches square, at a weight over 3 oz. Being mostly nougat, a lot of the volume was air. But even still, compared to current candy bar standard is closer to 1.5 ounces, Milky Way was a hefty morsel.
The rustic look of the bar and package suggests that chocolate enrobing and candy bar wrapping are still in a pretty primitive state. This bar was wrapped by hand, as were most of the bars of the 1920s. In fact, the wrapping looks kind of sloppy. I’ve seen ads for candy bars from both larger companies and tiny outfits, and this style of wrapping was pretty common, whether some sort of paper as in this example or an imprinted foil. Wrapped candies of this sort had just begun to dominate the candy market, so expectations for what the wrapping should look like were not very settled. And since most of this was done by hand in factories, at high speeds, a certain slap-dash wrapping style is not so surprising.
And what about the name, “Milky Way”? My last post featured a 1960s era ad that promised wholesome milk, corn and eggs, farm fresh ingredients that make the candy “milky.” But when the candy was first introduced in the 1920s, the “milky” reference was a little different, as you can see in this 1925 ad:
The promise of milk in a Milky Way was originally a reference to a soda fountain treat, malted milk. This ad promises that the bar contains “more malted milk by volume than is contained in a double malted milk at the soda fountain.” So instead of drinking your malted milk, you could eat it in the form of a candy bar.
The focus on milk is to promote the “food value” of the candy bar. But the comparison here is between two different treat foods, both of which you would eat outside the home. This preserves the distinction between meal food and treat food, a distinction that seems to have broken down sometime later.
In 1925, candy bars and malted milk sodas were obviously not for breakfast. By the time we get to the 1960s TV ad that I wrote about in the last post, the images of eggs, milk and corn in the context of the farm emphasize that the candy bar is food like any other (and I think of breakfast particularly when I see those images). And so we arrive at our current state of confusion. It is, after all, just a little wiggle to move from candy bar to breakfast bar…
Mott’s for Tots is boasting 40% less sugar than regular apple juice. If you’ve seen the TV ads in the last couple of weeks, you’ll recognize the campaign, cute toddlers enjoying their snacks while moms look on serenely, knowing that the special toddler juice formulation is safe for their wee ones.
Reduced sugar “for Tots.” So I guess that means it’s fine for the rest of us to continue with the full-blown sugar of regular juice? Why, if they can reduce the sugar, why don’t they just go ahead and do it?
This campaign has been really bugging me. I’m trying to figure out the rationale for targeting this reduced sugar juice to toddlers. I guess the most obvious point is that we are protecting our precious babies from the dangers of too much sugar. But doesn’t that imply that too much sugar might be a problem for people in general? The idea that babies are worth protecting but that everyone else should just go ahead and binge on sugary juice seems a little troubling.
Everybody seems to agree that its the sugar-laden drinks that are driving America from cute pudgyness to repulsive obesity. But juice somehow gets a pass. When the label can boast “no added sugar,” lots of people conclude that means “no sugar.” There is no practical difference between “added sugar” and the sugar that occurs naturally in sweet juices. Mott’s Plus for Kids 100% Apple Grape Juice has 130 calories and 30 grams of sugar in an 8 oz serving. Pepsi has 100 calories and 27 grams of sugar. The only argument I could understand here is that typical juice portions might be smaller than typical soda portions, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the juice is sugar water in virtuous disguise.
One of the big PR sucesses of the healthy nutrition lobby has been to re-brand sodas as “liquid candy.” Since everybody knows candy is bad for you, calling soda a kind of candy has been a great way to get sodas out of the schools and off the dinner tables of America.
I’m all for this effort, I think water should be what we drink when we’re thirsty. And if you want a sweet drink? The latest generation of artificial sweeteners make for tasty, enjoyable sweet beverages. People who complain that the “diet” versions of soft drinks aren’t as good as the regular will soon have no excuse. Pepsi is working on a formula that would have 60% less sugar and be absolutely indistinguishable from the full-sugar version. I don’t say this often, but: “Go, Pepsi!”
Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone worried about calories or nutrition would choose a sugar-sweetened drink. Am I worried about artificial sweeteners? Maybe if I was drinking 10 bottles of Diet Coke a day, I might be concerned. But these non-caloric sweeteners work because they are intensely sweet in tiny amounts. One packet of Splenda in my iced coffee a couple of times a week, or a diet Snapple every few days, is not something to get excited about.
Soda and candy are different in one important way: sugar in a beverage is a flavoring. Sugar in candy is the candy itself. Put this another way: you could flavor a drink with many kinds of sweeteners, and still have a drink. A non-caloric sweetener will create a sweet drink that may be very much like a drink sweetened with sugar. But this doesn’t work for candy. If you take out the sugar or corn syrup, you aren’t just taking out sweetness, you’re taking out the stuff of the candy.
So enjoy sugar in your candy, where it belongs. Or, if you really like the sweetness of sugar in something you drink, call it candy, and enjoy it the way you enjoy candy.
As for Mott’s for Tots, 40% less sugar is still lots more sugar than WATER. Juice, even reduced sugar juice, is still “liquid candy,” just like soda. My plea to the parents of America: stop giving apple juice to babies!
I always figured that Milky Way candy bar was named after the galaxy. But as this 1960s TV ad reveals, the “milky” in Milky Way is meant to be taken literally:
These days, we assume “junky candy bar” is about as far as you can get from “wholesome glass of milk.” But if you follow this ad, it turns out Milky Way isn’t a candy bar at all! It’s “good food bar”! How can you resist the images of all the natural food products that go into the candy bar: corn, eggs, milk from a gentle cow. The logic goes like this: candy comes from food, so candy IS food.
And where in this ad is the Milky Way? If you take away the voice-over and just look at the moving picture, you might conclude that this is a promotion for American family farms and fresh, local produce. Unlike most candy ads, there are no images at all of the actual candy bar until the final tag, which shows the candy safe in its wrapper. So what ever is in that wrapper, one thing we know is that it came from the farm.
It’s a fantastic idea: candy that grows on the farm. Slapping a picture of a barn or an ear of corn on the package of some highly processed food product is a pretty familiar ploy. We talk a lot about “real food” these days. The wish for “real food” isn’t new, though. This Milky Way ad suggests that even in the 1960s, an era that enthusiastically embraced all the wonders of food science, consumers hoped that inside the wrapper the food would still be wholesome and have some relation to things that grow. And advertisers, then and now, bank on consumers not being able to tell the difference between a pretty picture and the truth.
Let’s add this one to the current corn/sugar debates:
This is a 1928 ad from Corn Products Refining Company. Cerelose is a trade name for dextrose, which is a crystalline form of glucose. Recall that normal sugar is sucrose: glucose and fructose combined.
Already by the 1920s corn was an important source of food ingredients, especially sugars produced through enzymatic transformations of corn starches. Several important historical forces were pushing corn into the food supply, especially candy:
- Wheat and sugar shortages in WWI–corn was a favored substitute.
- New technologies of sugar extraction–corn was a domestic and cheap source of sugar products.
- Prohibition–grains that used to go into alcohol were now diverted to other food processing uses.
What is really interesting about this ad for Cerelose, though, is its appeal to the new science of sugar metabolism.
Recall the recent alarms raised by Gary Taubes in his account of the dangers of sucrose and HFCS: the big problem is the fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and believed to be implicated in metabolic syndrome (see my post on “toxic sugar” here).
The current damnation of (refined) fructose goes hand in hand with the demonization of high fructose corn syrup and its increasing portion of the national caloric burden. But as we can see from this Cerelose ad, the effort to distinguish “good” glucose from other sugars is not new. In fact, here the promotion of glucose as the most metabolically ideal sugar is in the service of promoting nothing other than sugar derived from corn, an irony that might not be fully appreciated by the current foes of “corn sugar”.
The ad claims that since Cerelose (glucose) is directly utilized by tissues, it won’t make you fat. The implication is that beet and cane sugar–sucrose–which combines fructose with glucose, will make you fat because it is not the “normal blood sugar” of the body. Incredibly, this is almost exactly the conclusion Taubes is popularizing based on current research.
Is it true that Cerelose, or glucose, tends to form tissue rather than fat as this ad claims? This would raise a beacon of hope for all of us who are looking at our sugar bowls with a little more trepidation… But unfortunately, glucose is no where near as sweet as fructose. That’s why its HIGH fructose corn syrup that substitutes for sucrose; plain old corn syrup (glucose) just isn’t sweet enough.
Will dextrose/glucose based candies start promoting “fructose free” on their labels? Back in the 1940s, candies advertised that they were “high in Dextrose” for extra energy, so it wouldn’t be totally unprecedented.
I’ve written several posts on corn sugar, as it comes up again and again in the candy archives. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts:
- Glue-cose, Or, Why we call it “Corn Syrup” Back in the early 1900s, corn growers were having trouble selling their corn-derived sweetener known as “glucose,” because everyone thought it was made of glue. Enter “corn syrup,” wholesome and pure sounding, until now.
- Corn People: How It Started In the old days, corn was animal feed. WWI food shortages changed everything. Now corn was patriotic people food.
- Corn Into Candy: 1918 With WWI sugar rationing, candy makers showed their stars and stripes by substituting corn syrup and other corn-derived ingredients.
- Beer and Candy III: Annheuser Busch and Corn Syrup Prohibition gave the shift to corn sweeteners an extra boost when beer makers looked for something else they could do with grains.
- Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab Sweetose was modified corn syrup, made sweeter by combining maltose with glucose. A forerunner to high-fructose corn syrup.
- Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose!” Corn refiners promote dextrose as “energy food.” WWII sugar rationing gives dextrose a big boost.
- Dextrose: All-American Corn Sugar Promoting dextrose as the “patriotic” alternative.
One thing I love about the candy business is the general spirit of fun. Granted, things get messy sometimes (witness the trail of lawsuits left by every major candy company). But generally, something about the candy trade seems to appeal especially to folks with a good sense of humor.
And sometimes humor will get you a lot farther in business than any thing lawyers might come up with. Exhibit A, The COPY Bar.
It’s 1926, and the Williamson Candy Company is flush with the success of their signature candy bar, Oh Henry! Millions sold every month. The only problem is those pesky competitors, who keep trying to grab a share of the Oh Henry! riches with cheap knock-offs. Williamson prevails in court (see my post on the suit against Oh Johnnie), but the onslaught continues.
Fighting head on doesn’t work, so Williamson goes Zen, bending like the bamboo. If everybody else is going to sell a copy of Oh Henry!, then Williamson will too, by gum. The “Latest Copy of Oh Henry!” is a Williamson original, priced at 5 cents against 10 cents for big brother Oh Henry!
This new 5cent bar is a radical departure for us. Heretofore other manufacturers have made the imitations of our product. But, in line with our endeavor to be ‘first with the latest,’ we have decided upon the policy new, even radical in the candy industry–of making our own imitations.
Williamson conceded that it wasn’t “as good as” Oh Henry! At half the price, it couldn’t be. But on the other hand, he claimed it was better than the cheap Oh Henry! knockoffs everybody else was selling for a nickel.
In tandem with the announcement of the new bar, Williamson launched the “Confectioners’ “Copy” Club.” The Club’s founding document was published in the November 1926 issue of Confectioners Journal, together with a space for a roster listing the members.
Here I transcribe the text, as my summary could never do justice to this witty attack on the trade:
Sometime ago when Oh Henry! came into prominnece, there was such a rush of imitators that the candy trade, both wholesale and retail, was seriously embarassed. Few were able to keep up with the daily growing list of imitations.
To forestall this difficulty when “COPY” begins to be copied, and also to engender a clubbier feeling among the manufacturers who copy “COPY”, we are organizing the “CONFECTIONERS’ ‘COPY’ CLUB.”
The only requisite for membership in the COPY CLUB is the manufacture of a bar similar to “COPY”… From month to month the names of the duly self-elected memers will be published in the roster of the COPY CLUB in these pages.
By this means we hope to keep the candy trade posted as to who is copying “COPY” so that there will be no difficulty in identifying the clever manufacturers who have had the originality to make a bar like “COPY”.
Candy bar business was, as this snarky ad suggests, cut throat. Margins were slim. Williamson was committed to a quality product, but that meant selling Oh Henry! at 10 cents, even as more and more bars were coming out for 5 cents. COPY let Williamson have it both ways, defending Oh Henry! while also competing for the lower segment of the market.
COPY didn’t last long, and seems to have been advertised primarily as a footnote to Oh Henry! But COPY wasn’t really so much candy as a weapon. Chocolaty and sweet pea-nutty, to be sure, but a weapon nonetheless.
Oh Henry! is not the most popular candy bar in America today, but it’s been around a while. It’s one of three major contemporary candy bars that you could have bought in the 1920s. Milky Way and Hershey bar (plain or with almonds) would be the other two. But there were others, hundreds nay thousands of others, now gone and forgotten. Why did Oh Henry! survive?
The candy bar market in the 1920s was a bit like the wild west, fast and lawless, any buckeroo with a candy kettle and a wrapping machine out to make a buck. Oh Henry! soared above the competition because George Williamson knew a few things about marketing. He bought billboards, magazine ads, newspaper spots to promote his bar. He focused on the one product. And he had some pretty innovative ideas about how to expand the market for candy bars, like a booklet of 60 recipes for cooking with Oh Henry! (see my post on Oh Henry! stuffed tomatoes here). Not surprising, there were some who figured on riding the Oh Henry! coattails to grab a little piece of the candy action for themselves.
Copying was a huge problem in the candy business. The yummiest combinations were pretty well established. And if there was already a good version of, say, peanut marshmallow chocolate bar, you could understand the temptation to just try to sell your own as “almost” that other one. Candy innovation could only take you so far. Names, colors, and packaging–the stuff of trade mark and trade dress– were increasingly important, maybe even more important than the candy itself.
The success of Oh Henry! could be measured in the proliferation of copy cats. The worst offender was “Oh Johnnie,” sold by the Uncanco Candy Company of Delaware. “Oh Johnnie” looked like “Oh Henry!” and tasted (sort of ) like “Oh Henry!”, and you had to admit that there was something familiar about the name “Oh Johnnie.” But Oh Henry cost 10 cents. Oh Johnnie, on the other hand, was half the price.
George Williamson was not happy. Lawyers got involved. Williamson sued for trademark infringement, claiming Uncanco was deliberately attempting to fool people into thinking their bar had something to do with the more successful Oh Henry! The judge agreed:
Thus far the ‘Oh Johnnie’ bar had the appearance of being the same as the ‘Oh Henry!’ bar save in size, price and possible quality. They were alike as two brothers of different years. … It would be strain upon human credulity to believe that such and so many points of similarity as here found, could innocently exist. … The only plausible purpose for the similarity was to enable the smaller bar to be passed off as the product of the plaintiff.
Williamson won, and Ucanco was found guilty of trademark infringement. The lawsuit stopped Oh Johnnie. But lawsuits were an expensive, time consuming, and clumsy way to swat at the flies of candy competition in the roaring ’20s. Here comes Oh! Jiggs. And watch out, over there is Hey Eddie! Williamson didn’t give up fighting off the copy cats, but he did change tactics.
Next post: if the law fails, bludgeon them with sarcasm.
When I was growing up, my mother took me and my brother and sister to church every Sunday. And on the way home, we always stopped at the candy store. Each of us got 15 cents, and we could eat our spoils however we liked. We called it “Sunday Candy.”
Where did this tradition come from? I’ve met a few other people who had similar Sunday rituals, but not many, so I conclude this was not a wide-spread practice. My mother grew up in Illinois, and has a vague recollection of candy on Sundays. My initial theory was that Sunday penance at church was matched by Sunday indulgence in the bon bon box.
I’ve found some references to the idea of “Sunday candy” as a special treat in the early 1900s. Especially where pennies for candy might be hard to come by, a child might get candy once a week, on Sunday. Newspaper ads from the period also promote special items for the “Sunday candy feast,” suggesting that it was a frequent custom for special family Sunday dinners to conclude with candy.
But I’m also beginning to suspect that Sunday Candy, like just about every other American candy tradition, was an invention of the publicity department at the National Confectioners Association. V.L. Price began beating the drum for holiday candy promotions in the 1920s (Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and more). And soon, candy promoters realized that boosting candy sales on holidays was only the beginning.
In 1928, the NCA sponsored a co-operative advertising campaign with the slogan “Sweeten the Day with Candy!” Ads in major magazines like the Saturday Evening Post encouraged Americans to enjoy candy every day. And as part of this campaign, ads included the reminder: “Take Home Candy for Sunday.” Promotions along these lines, with the same slogan, had appeared locally beginning in the early 1920s; the NCA was attempting to make the Sunday Candy idea a national tradition.
Here are some illustrations of this theme that appeared in the trade publication Confectioners Journal. These might have been used as window cards in candy stores or as images for ads in local papers.
Both these designs emphasize a connection between church and candy, without specifying what that connection might actually entail. The stained glass window and angelic choir certainly lend the product an aura of sanctity. Will candy eating get you to heaven a little faster? Or is candy a bit of heaven on earth?
Notice the promotion doesn’t say “buy candy on Sunday.” “Blue laws” limiting trade on Sundays were increasingly in force in the 1920s, and so in many communities most stores were closed. The idea was that mother or father would stop at the candy store on Friday or Saturday and stock up with boxes of family favorites for Sunday.
I found reference to one shop that offered a special weekend promotion: a pound each of chocolate, hard candy and gum drops for 99 cents. A mere three pounds of candy to get the family through the weekend.
Candy for the household at the week-end, a package of candy, good candy, that can reasonably be counted upon to please the taste in candies of all the grown-ups, the children, and any possible casual visitor, just the right variety and not too much of it, yet enough and not too expensive—that has become another of the housewife’s important problems in this candy-eating age.
Anyone else remember Sunday Candy? I’d love to hear your stories!
Quote is from “A Candy Method of Loft’s Inc.” Confestioners Journal Aug 1925, p. 105.
Here at Candy Professor, we’re on the elusive trail of “Tootsie.”
The official Tootsie Roll story is that candy inventor Leo Hirschfeld named the chewy chocolate bite after his little daughter Clara, nickname “Tootsie.”
As I discussed in the previous post, a little girl called “Tattling Tootsie” was used to promote an earlier Stern & Saalberg product, Bromangleon dessert powder (which was also a Hirschfeld invention). But Tattling Tootsie doesn’t seem to have been used to promote Tootsie Rolls.
But here’s an intriguing image, courtesy of John and Stephanie Cook, who found this advertising card used as the backing for an old print:
Is this Tootsie? The verse doesn’t seem to suggest a name; here’s a best guess reconstruction suggested by the Cooks:
Why has the hungry [little girl] begun her lunch so [soon?]
Because you cannot [make her wait] for Tootsie Rolls [till noon.]
I don’t know what Clara Hirschfeld looked like. But this Tootsie Roll tyke in no way resembles Tattling Tootsie used in the Bromangelon ads.
The Bromangelon Tootsie is from around 1907. As for the Tootsie Roll girl, there are several clues that help date this ad. The wrapper in the image was introduced in 1913. The earlier wrapper said “Chocolate Tootsie Roll”, the new wrapper and packaging introduced in 1913 added “Chocolate Candy Tootsie Roll.” I do know that in 1919 the wrapper looked totally different, but it is most likely that by 1917 at the latest Tootsie Roll was not using this style wrapper. So I would put this placard as being before WWI, but no older than 1913.
I think these two little Tootsie girls tell us more about changing images of girl-hood and advertising than they do about Clara Hirschfeld. The earlier Tattling Tootsie is explicitly connected with the home. Her outfit and pose are unambiguously feminine. She is prim and proper: her dress and hair are neat and controlled. Bromangelon was marketed to housewives as a convenience food, so perhaps the neat and prim little girl also suggests the successful mother who keeps her child looking so well-tended.
But the later Tootsie Roll girl seems more mischievous. The bow in her hair assures us she is a girl, but her drooping socks and ambiguous clothes suggest more outdoors and active adventure. Her school books locate her outside the home, away from parents and parental controls. And this girl is a little naughty: she won’t wait to eat her Tootsie Roll. This ad may have been aimed as much at children as at adults; in this period, it would not have been uncommon for a child to purchase such candy on her own, much as suggested in this ad.
By the way, I believe the artist has taken some liberty in drawing the Tootsie Roll candy to monstrous scale for visual effect. The tube in the girl’s hand seems to be immense, bigger even than her school books. But actual Tootsie Roll candy as you would have found it for sale in this period was probably more like 3-4 inches long.
Thanks to John and Stephanie Cook for their permission to share this image and for their enthusiasm for candy sleuthing.
- Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story
- Tough Tootsie, and How it Got to Be That Way
- Chocolate? Tootsie Roll
- Tootsie Roll: Penny Candy That’s Not
- Tootsie, Bromangelon, and a Foul Stench
Before Tootsie Roll, there was Bromangelon.
Bromangelon, that delicious jelled dessert powder that was a staple of American kitchens in the 1890s and 1900s. Jell-O barely existed; it was Bromangelon that housewives turned to for their surprising dessert effects.
If you haven’t read the pre-history of Tootsie Rolls, you can read my Tootsie expose here. But today I want to fill in a few choice details about Bromangelon. The sugar-flavor-gelatin product was the original break-out hit of the Stern & Saalberg Company, who would later introduce Tootsie Rolls to the world.
Tootsie Rolls did not exist prior to 1909. But Tootsie did; Tattling Tootsie, that is. Tattling Tootsie, a cute little dark-haired girl, was the brand icon for Bromangelon. A generous reader sent me images of a promotional booklet for the dessert product, featuring little Tootsie herself tattling away.
The booklet continues with several pages of doggerel accounting Tootsie’s tendency to tattle on members of the household and their love of Bromangelon. I date this color advertising booklet to around 1907; a similar black and white “Tattling Tootsie” booklet refers to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, so later than that date. The black and white version mentions fewer flavors, and has some details in the drawing that suggest an earlier printing, so I’m dating this color version as later, but prior to Stern & Saalberg’s venture into Tootsie Rolls in 1909.
Legend has it that Tootsie was the nickname for Clara, the daughter of Leo Hirschfeld, who invented both Bromangelon and Tootsie Roll. Perhaps. But Tattling Tootsie looks more like the work of an ad agency than the inspiration of a candy inventor. Tootsie was a popular nickname, something you might call just about any cute girl (as in “hiya, toots!”). Tootsie Roll is a cute name for a candy, sure, but the image of a girl in the style of Tattling Tootsie does not appear to have been associated with the candy in its early advertising.
Bromangelon was at the cutting edge of a new style of cuisine, food from chemicals and packages that assembled quickly and inspired radically new interpretations of traditional ways of eating. Salad, dessert, breakfast and dinner blended together under the ministrations of a package of Bromangelon and a creative assemblage of other ingredients.
The original Bromangelon was pink, of undisclosed flavor. By the time of this booklet in the early 1900s, several flavors were available: Lemon, Orange, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Peach and Chocolate. The Chocolate flavor, a late addition to the line up, is especially interesting in light of later Tootsie Roll developments. As for the fruit flavors, they may have been more or less recognizeable; the science of flavoring was at this time in its infancy, and terms like “peach” and “lemon” were more likely to signify aromatic chemicals than fruit essences.
Not everyone was a fan of Bromangelon. The name itself is a puzzle. Publicity tended to include the explanatory breakdown “bro-man-gel-on” suggesting that consumers were having trouble remembering or pronouncing the neologism. From The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record (1903), this fanciful Greek-ish etymology:
What is Bromangelon?
A foul spirit. From bromos, a stench, and angellus, a spirit.
Thanks to Louise Volper for the Bromangelon booklet. She has a great blog at http://monthsofediblecelebrations.blogspot.com
Of all the “jazzy” candy bars from the 1920s, this one still seems the most strange. Candy and chicken seem about as far apart as you can get. What were they thinking?
Sperry Candy Company of Milwaukee WI introduced the bar in 1923 with the slogan “Candy Made Good.” Good like candy, but also good like chicken dinner. An ad to the trade explained the reasoning behind the name: “A name which suggests the best of something good to eat, and known to every child.” These children of 1923, I’d love to meet them. Sperry seemed to think that a big roast chicken was the best lure for the kiddie market.
Chicken Dinner originally sold for 10 cents, the high end of the candy piece market. Sperry described it as “an expensive, high grade candy, put up in convenient 10 cent packages.” Neither in the ads nor on the package did they say much about what was actually in the candy bar. The innovation and excitement of Chicken Dinner wasn’t nuts or nougat, it was the name.
Chicken Dinner meant quality and goodness. What it did not mean, at least not directly, was meal replacement. I’ve read in more than one account of candy during the Depression that bars like Chicken Dinner and Denver Sandwich were popular in part because they promised a kind of imaginary substitute for more expensive real meals. Now I’m beginning to doubt that story. For one, both those bars were first marketed before the Depression, so the context of empty pockets and hungry bellies doesn’t explain these names’ origins. Candy bars in this period had all kinds of outlandish names. Choosing to call your candy bar something so unlike candy, but still appealing, seems a great way to get a second look in a crowded field. But more than that: the idea that a candy bar might be contemplated as somehow equivalent to chicken or a sandwich sounds much more like our contemporary “anything goes” food culture.
I suspect a candy bar named “Pizza Dinner” today might not take off the way Chicken Dinner did. It was one of the best selling candy bars in its day, and remained on the market for some 50 years. It wasn’t just that everybody loved a good chicken dinner. And it probably didn’t have too much to do with the bar itself. It was advertising.
In the 1920s, not everyone realized that advertising was the secret to success. Candy bars that were heavily advertised from their inception would go on to bigger and bigger shares (anyone could have realized in the early 1920s that Milky Way and O, Henry! would be the ones to watch). There was no TV in those days. Radio advertising wouldn’t really catch on until the 1930s. So live interactions with the candy-buying public were the only way to get the word out.
Chicken Dinner billboards were a common sight around the land. But Sperry wasn’t just waiting around for potential customers to pass by to see the sign. In 1926, Sperry’s advertising experts came up with the idea of putting Chicken Dinner signs, and big colorful chickens, on automobiles and driving them around cities drumming up excitement. Back up was provided by teams of window trimmers, artists, and even circus clowns. Behind the scenes, Sperry was assigning advertising staff to work permanently in the field to support distribution and sales. This was a new idea; most companies sent their goods off with jobbers who made the distribution rounds in different locations and didn’t stick around to provide marketing support.
The best think about Chicken Dinner besides the name was the chicken cars, which became quite elaborate. Fleets of Chicken Dinner cars or trucks would arrive in town to deliver the candy goods. Here you can see an image from the mid 1930s; here’s a later model. What did people think the first time they saw one?