The Happy Meal Ranks Among the Most Successful—and Copied—Ideas

If the annals of branding prove one maxim over and over, it’s this: The best ideas often hit when you least expect. Case in point: the kitchen of a Kansas City, Mo., adman named Bob Bernstein. It was sometime in 1975. His agency, Bernstein-Rein, was sitting on a prestigious regional account for McDonald’s, which had…

You Don’t Have to Tickle Him if You Don’t Want To

Two decades ago, toy inventor Ron Dubren heard giggles coming from a playground. It was a bunch of kids tickling one other. Inspired, Dubren created Tickles the Chimp. Tickles didn’t make it very far, but after Tyco Preschool combined Dubren’s invention with a Sesame Street licensing deal, the toy became Tickle Me Elmo–so popular that…

You Can Thank Prohibition for Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider

When Prohibition became the law of the land in 1919, the near-immediate effect (apart from taking everyone’s favorite libations away) was economic disaster. Across the country, countless companies went out of business: breweries, restaurants and taverns closed their doors. Truckers who hauled beer lost their routes. Even barrel makers laid down their mallets. Economists estimated…

How the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Ballooned Into a Cherished Holiday Tradition

On Friday, Nov. 28, 1924, The New York Times carried an item on page 15 about Santa Claus making an early seasonal appearance: “With a retinue of clowns, freaks, animals and floats, the bewhiskered man in red … arrived at 9 o’clock yesterday morning.” The story, measuring just a few column inches, was a throwaway….

Nutter Butter’s Origin Remains a Mystery in Spite of Its Decades of Staying Power

A kid plays on a swing, contemplating his afternoon snack. His co-star, an animated character in Nutter Butter’s 1973 television commercial, is the spitting image of Willy Wonka, the beloved Gene Wilder version, though some viewers have noticed touches of Uncle Sam. With an earworm jingle and a breezy backdrop, the spot serves a memorable…

Family-owned Smarties Keeps the Nostalgia Brand Rolling

Ghosts and goblins don’t scare the leaders of the Smarties Candy Co. In fact, the trio of execs who run the family-owned business embrace all things Halloween–a holiday they spend at least nine months prepping for and during which they sell millions of the iconic pill-sized, fruit-flavored candies. “It’s our Super Bowl,” said Liz Dee,…

The ‘Magic’ Behind Drawing and Erasing on Etch A Sketch

An admitted beginner in Etch A Sketch artwork until a few years ago, Arlene Biran created a respectable-looking Labrador retriever on the iconic drawing toy during a recent phone interview. “If you practice, you will get better,” she said. “And it makes you feel proud when you’ve finished.” Biran, vp, marketing and global business lead…

The Sperry Top-Sider was Inspired by Rubber Tires and a Dog’s Paw

A rare bit of agreement echoed through the fickle world of fashion in the past year. It began when Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) announced: “Boat shoes are back.” Next came Esquire: “Yep, boat shoes are cool again.” Newcomers such as the website Valet piped in: “The classic preppy shoe has returned.” Paul Sperry (1) came up…

How Sonic the Hedgehog Sped Past the Competition

If you had lived in New York City three decades ago and spent some time in Central Park, you might have chanced upon a slender, bookish-looking man named Naoto Ohshima. And if you had perchance run into him, you’d have influenced the course of video-game history. It was 1990. Ohshima, an artist for Sega, had…

A Grocery Exec’s Hunting Trip Inspired the Name for a Still-Famous Kentucky Bourbon

American distillers are known for protecting secret recipes and ingredients, but few guardians match the commitment of one Jimmy Russell. The Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., where Russell has overseen the stills for 65 years, has used the same yeast strain since the 1950s. At some point, the thought occurred to Russell that were…

How Heinz Created America’s (and Ed Sheeran’s) Favorite Condiment

The internet, as most of us know by now, tends to blow up over ridiculous things. This is why, in March 2017, the web was abuzz not with actual news like the impeachment of South Korean president Park Geun-hye or the landslide in Addis Ababa, but with the tattoos of Ed Sheeran. Specifically, the Heinz…

Tab Accounts for Just 1% of Coca-Cola’s Sales, So Why Is It Still Around?

Most people would be thrilled to live in a city as hip and sophisticated as San Francisco. But Natalie Kueneman, web developer by trade, remembers how tough things were for her there. The problem wasn’t that there was no arts or tech scene; it was that Kueneman couldn’t find Tab cola for sale anywhere in…

How Charlie the Tuna Became One of the Best-Known Brand Mascots in American History

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the phrase (and it can’t be many), “Sorry, Charlie” roughly translates to: Tough luck, bro. Urban Dictionary defines it as: “A lack of sympathy. A form of ‘get over it.'” Today’s kids might not trot out “Sorry, Charlie” as much as the youth of the 1960s did, but…

How Jamba Put Smoothies on the Map

Two years ago, Saturday Night Live aired a skit featuring Kenan Thompson and Beck Bennett stranded in the desert and dying of thirst. As Bennett gazes blearily into the distance, a wondrous vision appears. It’s a chipper young man wearing an apron and standing at a counter. He’s holding up an ice-cold yellow smoothie. “Bananamatazz…

How 50-Year-Old Fla-Vor-Ice Became an Enduring American Summertime Staple

Among the many hardships endured by children undergoing cancer treatment is nausea–and the related difficulty of finding a food they can keep down. Fortunately, young patients at the Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, the Georgetown University Hospital and 123 other medical centers across the country can avail themselves of a simple snack that, more often…

How a Bunch of Urban Hipsters Saved Pabst Blue Ribbon

If you’re the sort who suffers for days from old commercial jingles that get stuck in your head, then by all means avoid searching YouTube for the Pabst Blue Ribbon weightlifter spot. Its doubtful premise–that a champion athlete can win first prize, but really just wants a brewski–climaxes in song: “I’ve got a taste for…

JBL, the Legendary Audio Brand That Walloped Woodstock, Is Still Packing a Punch

One afternoon in the summer of 1969, Woodstock promoter Michael Lang took sound engineer Bill Hanley to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y., to show him the grounds for the concert he was planning. The moment Hanley looked out at 700 acres of grassy hillside, he knew the only way to throw sound that far…

How American Eagle Captured the Youth Market and Never Really Let Go

Earlier this year, American Eagle Outfitters took a gamble that turned the heads of not only customers, but other marketers as well. Like many brands pursuing the fickle tastes of Gen Z shoppers, the mall-based apparel retailer had convened focus groups full of teens, eager to hear what they did and didn’t like. And like…

How Tim Hortons Became Synonymous With Canada

About a decade ago, Tim Hortons put up a page on its website that let customers share stories about what the restaurant meant to them personally. Just in case that concept sounds a little strange–people expressing their affection for a doughnut chain–well, then, you don’t know Tim Hortons, and you’re certainly not Canadian. For 55…

How Yuengling Beer Has Endured for a Whopping 190 Years

For Americans fond of their brewskies, Dec. 5, 1933, was arguably the biggest day in history. That Sunday, Utah became the all-important 36th state to vote an end to Prohibition. To show their gratitude to Franklin D. Roosevelt–who’d reportedly said, “What America needs now is a drink”–two brewers sent gifts to the president. One was…