Bizarre brand histories: unsung stories
Pickled eggs, whiskey blitzers, master blender action figures; the new ‘could-be-true’ brand story from Ballantine’s is so deliciously far-fetched, it tickled us to think there might be other companies out there with their own quirky tales to tell. So, we went on a hunt. Take a look at our four favourites below…
A load of old Crocker
She’s the mother of home cooking made easy. If you’re short on time or you screw up a dessert for the in-laws, she’s right there for you with a matronly hug, in the form of an idiot-proof baking mix. But in a cruel twist of 1920s marketing genius, those pillow-soft sponge cakes and suspiciously uniform chocolate-chip cookies were actually born from little more than a pseudonymous character and some imaginative artwork. That’s right, Betty Crocker is a phantom. A façade. A made-up person, fashioned to add a personal touch to customer correspondences. And that trademark signature? Sampled from a female worker in the company at the time. Marvel or mourn at your leisure.
For many, just the word ‘Pez’ conjures joyous memories of family holidays in France – parents smiling indulgently and saying ‘oh go on then, just one more’ as you reached for the row of cartoon-capped dispensers in the local supermarché. But Pez was actually created with a whole other purpose – to wean the world off cigarettes. While for most WWII troops, a pack of Camel was top of the wish list when the home rations arrived, by the 1940s Pez was already inspiring people to kick the habit with its lighter-style dispensers, filled with mint-flavoured sweets. It was only in the 1950s when Pez broke the American market that it began producing fruity varieties and character-themed dispensers aimed at children.
Ben & Jerry’s bagels?
Imagine a life without icy chocolate fudge brownie. Without Phish Food. Without Karamel Sutra (worth grabbing a tub if only to chuckle at how they pronounce ‘caramel’ the other side of the pond…) Well, as it turns out Mr Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were inches away from depriving ice-cream junkies the world over when they first went into business. Grand plans to start a bagel factory melted away when they realised just how pricey the equipment would be. So, with $10 between them, they signed on to an ice-cream course at Penn State (yes, that’s still an actual university programme), and away they went.
Swish, rinse… now pass the scalpel
It might keep you minty fresh but Listerine actually started its life as a surgical antiseptic. In Victorian Britain, more people died from hospital infections than from disease itself. On a mission to change this, physicist Joseph Lister imposed sterilisation methods in operating theatres, eventually leading to the invention of this super sterile germ killer. By 1910, housewives had already started buying up the stuff for use on household ailments, and after some branding tweaks, it was permanently parked next to the toothpaste in many a bathroom.