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Spokescharacters Fading Fast
Big news from the world of advertising: Two of the country’s best-known spokespeople… spokescharacters… spokesthings are fading from the scene.
I speak, of course, of Cap’n Crunch and Ronald McDonald, who have just been sent to the Old Characters Home to join Speedee Alka-Seltzer, Reddy Kilowatt, Burger Chef and Jeff, Mrs. Olsen, the Ajax White Knight, the Ti-D-Bowl Man, Josephine the Plumber and dozens more in retirement.
The reason? They’ve outlived their attractiveness. The Cap’n represents the Quaker Oats cereal most often held up as The Worst Thing You Can Feed A Kid For Breakfast, and Ronald is the face of a McDonald’s that used to be all about Big Macs and Happy Meals, but today emphasizes coffee and salad.
And so the decisions were made: Give ‘em a gold watch and set them loose. Or adrift, in the Crunch case.
As one born at the very center of the Baby Boom, I was there when these characters came onto the scene. The Cap’n set sail in 1963. That was the year of ol’ Ron’s debut, too, although at that time he was a local hero in Washington, D.C. (played by future Today show weatherguy Willard Scott). Ronald didn’t go national for another three years.
Of course, they became fixtures almost as soon as they arrived, because they were wildly successful – successful meaning “able to inspire children to jump up and down and whine and hold their breath and pester their parents to please please please buy the cereal or pull in for a clownburger.”
Sadly, I had the incredible misfortune of growing up with a mother who was immune to such theatrics. There would be no Cap’n Crunch as long as Cheerios were still available, she intoned, and homemade burgers were demonstrably better than a drive-in’s, so why bother?
(That’s how it was for the older kids, anyway. The rules were somewhat relaxed for our younger siblings, who got away with murder and ate all the garbage they wanted. Don’t even ask what she feeds the grandkids.)
I was a little too old to fall for Ronald’s line, although I remember the jingle: “He’s Ronald McDonald, the hamburger-happy clown. A McDonald’s drive in restaurant is his favorite place in town.” He was a weird-looking clown back then. Weirder than usual, I mean. He had a soda cup for a nose and wore a take-out box for a hat. Emmett Kelly he was not.
And the Cap’n represented a cereal that, while tasty, was extremely unsatisfying. It was impossible to get full on a Cap’n Crunch breakfast, which is why you usually had to allot one box per child per meal. And he spawned a cast of characters (my favorite was Jean LaFoote, the barefoot pirate) and a line of cereals that all tasted pretty much alike. Even cereals that weren’t in the Cap’n Crunch family (Quisp and Quake) tasted like Cap’n Crunch.
So what the heck. Goodbye, Cap’n. Adios, clown. And as for consumers and boomers – well, let’s not get too sad here. For one thing, they had good, long runs. For another, they’ll probably be back someday. And finally, they’re made up. Not real. Fictional.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s generally a good idea to save your emotional investments for actual living, breathing creatures.
Although I still kind of miss Elsie the Cow.
© 2011 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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