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The Pillsbury Doughboy, Research Paper Example

Pages: 4

Words: 986

Research Paper

The Pillsbury company’s signature advertising element of the Pillsbury Doughboy has been a mainstay for decades, and one consistently successful.  The Doughboy, in fact, is known by another name: Poppin Fresh. This in itself indicates the universality of the campaign’s success, which is reinforced by studies. In the 1990s, for example, Poppin Fresh had a higher identification and popularity rating with consumers than Tony the Tiger, the California Raisins, or Charlie the Tuna (Gruenwald  316).  In an arena wherein cartoon characters fight for market supremacy, the Pillsbury Doughboy has maintained a consistently leading rank since its introduction in the 1960s.   It serves as a template for how a single image can evolve to reflect, in agreeable ways, a corporate presence, and become a trusted representative of what that corporation seeks to sell.

To begin with, the underlying psychology of Poppin Fresh very much reflects the post-Eisenhower era of its creation.  More exactly, this was a figure designed to fit into the idea of American domesticity of the time.  There was a social ideal to be met, one in which men worked and women cared for the home and children, and Poppin Fresh came onto the scene as a friendly, innocent helper.  On one level, the character’s good nature helped to instill an important message: baking goods ready to go into the oven did not mean taking an easy way out, but was simply a better means of providing the family with fresh bread products.  On another, the character’s apron and hat emphasized that “mom” was still cooking for the family, so there was no break with tradition.   This, of course, relates to how the Doughboy actually worked to persuade.  Appearing as if by magic from the Pillsbury canister, it was in a sense the food speaking for itself.  The message was not that of an outside presence informing the consumer that the product is good, so a greater trust level is automatically generated.  Then, everything about the character suggests or directly goes to supporting the ambitions of the homemaker.  It persuades because it seems to be as concerned with providing a good meal as the viewer.

The appeal of Poppin Fresh, and from its beginning, is far more emotional than fact-based.  It is certainly true that the Pillsbury ads stress the convenience, as well as the wholesomeness, of the products, but the icon’s effect is more visceral.  It is as harmless and innocent a creation as advertising has ever created.  It is plump, and as small as a doll.  It is somewhat masculine, but only in a sexless and boyish way.  What this then creates is a further identification in the targeted demographic of mothers; this is the product as spokesperson and as a child looking to be fed, and the latter element is reinforced by the character’s signature giggle on being gently poked in the belly.  The action suggest warmth and affection between the consumer and the product.  It also suggest, on a subtle level, a further trust in the consumer’s presence.  In poking, the finger – usually a woman’s – is expressing power and authority, so the finger owner’s acceptance of Poppin Fresh attaches integrity to the Pillsbury products.

It seems that Pillsbury devoted a strong focus on both the long-term impact of the figure and its psychological effects, or presence.   Beyond anything, the company wanted a representation that would permit enormous flexibility in future ad campaigns: “He can do anything that does not make him appear stupid, provided he does not overshadow…the product we are advertising” (Gruenwald  316).   For the 1960s, this was highly advanced thinking, as Pillsbury was clearly aware of the danger in creating a marketing icon that might be so strong, it would be distanced from the product in the consumer’s mind.   Moreover, the plan to have a Poppin Fresh that could “do anything” foresaw the need to adapt to different trends in the market.  It also nicely attends to changes in the demographic itself, accommodating buyers no longer necessarily mothers.  Over the decades, the character has done precisely that.  To promote the Pillsbury line of soft breadsticks as excellent with Italian food, it sings in an Italian, operatic style.  From direct appeals to mothers and homemakers in dancing a box step, it evolved to playing the “air guitar” on a butter knife, to target young people (Gruenwald 317).  Essentially, anyone who needs to prepare food is then targeted.

All of this, inevitably, goes to how well the icon conveys the intended message. The character is lighthearted and fun, which creates an association with the product as both easy and enjoyable.  Poppin Fresh is, above all, not threatening. It is there only to help, and then disappear, and its composition of dough reinforces this aspect. Then, in all commercials featuring the character, there is a nod to fantasy, or rather an acknowledgment of it. This suggests a Disney-esque intention to a degree, which is a further, desirable association. As for anything missing in the advertising that the consumer must supply, Pillsbury ingeniously has always relied on the relationship between cook and Doughboy.  Certain ads reveals family members enjoying the products, but the core is always the “secret” cooperation between the homemaker and the icon. This then encourages the consumer to supply the pleased faces of their own family members.

Lastly, as to human values, Poppin Fresh endures because it reflects only very basic ones.  On an elementary level, anyone, mother or otherwise, preparing food wishes to please those who will consume it.  This also incorporates the very human need to know that the work done is appreciated.  The ads, then, comfort the consumer completely.  If the cook will only follow the lead of the giggling, innocent boy made of dough, the entire family will be happy and the cook’s integrity within the family will be established.

Works Cited

Gruenwald, George.  How to Create Profitable New Products: From Mission to Market.             Chicago: NTC Business Books, 1997. Print.

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