Sure, there is Flavor-Aid; there are store brands and local brands of drink mix; and there are specialized powders like Country Time and Crystal Light; but the real competition to the advertising power Kraft could bring to the table for Kool-Aid was found in one place only: Funny Face.
Funny Face drink mix was produced by Pillsbury, a company with a significant marketing budget and access to experienced advertising agencies.
The company marketed a pre-sweetened, sugar-free mix that would ease the concerns of mothers who were aware of the cleanup caused by kids trying to add sugar to their Kool-aid. Having established their hook for the parents, Pillsbury found one for the kids: each packet had the powder flavor represented by an appropriate fruit with a playful name and a silly face.
The concept was great… but the choices of “Injun Orange” and “Chinese Cherry” were awful.
The company had poured money into not just the drink, but associated advertising. Everything from straws to shirts to pitchers were available with the Funny Face designs.
Pillsbury was threatened by a lawsuit in 1966. Native American groups argued that Injun Orange was a derisive and demeaning stereotype. They were correct, as the commercial above demonstrates. Pillsbury executives considered the complaint and, despite the money spent on promotional material, axed both of the questionable characters, replacing them with “Jolly Ollie Orange” and “Choo-Choo Cherry.”
Later setbacks would hit the drink mix. First, it was the cyclamate used to sweeten the drink being found to cause bladder cancer. Then, it was the aftertaste of the saccharine used in cyclamate’s stead. Eventually it was simply market competition and the desire of Pillsbury to focus on other brands.
Still, the original Funny Face choices haunted the company. Some of their customers never forgot the prior characters had demonstrated… sorry, I’m going to say it… poor taste.
Question of the night: What is your favorite food mascot, breakfast cereal or otherwise?