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May 11, 2015 • By

Honoring advertising’s greatest icons

One has been giggling for 50 years, the other – at age 90! – says “Ho, Ho, Ho!” but doesn’t live at the North Pole.

You know them well. And now can more easily know a lot more about them, all in one place.

The Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant are part of a new exhibit that celebrates some of the most memorable characters in business and pop culture.

“A Salute to Advertising’s Greatest Icons” just opened at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) in Chicago. It runs through October 31.

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Besides Poppin’ Fresh and the Giant, from General Mills, there are eight other familiar characters from the advertising world in the exhibit.

“Their careers and their success really transcend basically everyone else that we’ve ever honored,” says Bruce DuMont, president, Museum of Broadcast Communications. “They are truly special … How many people do we know, who we call TV stars, have a career that goes back 90 years?”

“They were created by some of the most talented people in the business and they were nurtured by some of the smartest people in the business,” says Jarrett Nathan, exhibit curator, Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Nathan says the Doughboy was actually the first character the museum thought of honoring when they started planning the advertising exhibit. He had worked with Doughboy creator Rudy Perz at Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, and reached out to Perz last year to talk about the Doughboy’s upcoming 50th birthday in 2015.

Nathan says Perz provided a great deal of information to the exhibit’s team. Sadly, Perz died last month.

In 1965, Perz came up with the concept of the Doughboy popping out of a can of refrigerated Pillsbury dough, named him Poppin’ Fresh and suggested using stop-motion animation for his early commercials.

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The exhibit highlights many of the Doughboy’s milestones.

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“I think the amazing thing about the Doughboy is that in a certain sense he’s the cutest and most beloved character here. There’s just something irresistible,” says Jim Engel, exhibit art director, Museum of Broadcast Communications. “This is a character that’s remained consistent and the payoff is that people consistently love him after all these years.”

We got a sense of that enduring love for the Doughboy when we took him to several popular Chicago tourist spots to take pictures with fans last Thursday and Friday, including at Skydeck Chicago on top of Willis Tower.

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And, at Navy Pier and The Field Museum of Natural History.

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We also made him available to meet attendees at the exhibit’s VIP opening on Friday night, and public opening on Saturday.

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The Jolly Green Giant is the oldest character in the exhibit, dating back to 1925. Leo Burnett himself is credited with transforming the symbol of Green Giant’s vegetables – in the 1930s and 40s – into a much more friendlier face than his first iteration.

“I think that’s what got Burnett started along this whole character line,” Nathan says. “He was able to see how really great visuals and a symbol for a product can be used in commercials and ads and everywhere else.”

“The Jolly Green Giant is very unique in terms of a character … He’s maybe the most unique persona here,” says Engel.

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General Mills, Pillsbury and Green Giant were honored to take part in the MBC’s award ceremony Friday night, and accept these medallions for the Jolly Green Giant and Doughboy as two of advertising’s 10 “greatest icons.”

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Rudy Perz’ daughter, Martha Nora, also attended the award ceremony and was recognized by the MBC as well in their comments about the Pillsbury Doughboy.

No matter their origin, the characters in the exhibit have clearly stood the test of time and are all still viable today.

“They were and are masters of engagement, years before engagement became an industry buzzword,” says Nathan. “They’ve conquered every media channel there is.”

The MBC hopes people interested in the advertising side of television history will stop in and see for themselves what they uncovered about the enduring legacy of the characters in the exhibit.

“I hope people come away with a great appreciation of the history of these characters,” Nathan says. “You take them for granted when you see them on TV – they’ve been around for a long time – but there’s really tremendous history here and you see how they’ve evolved from the beginning to what they are now.”

“When people walk in here there’s going to be nothing but ‘ooh’s and ahh’s’ and photos and good memories, and parents saying to their kids ‘Oh, this is from when I was a kid.’ So the whole experience, I know, will just be a joyful one and that makes it worth doing,” adds Engel.

To learn more about “A Salute to Advertising’s Greatest Icons” at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, visit Museum.tv.

Editor’s note: The General Mills Archives contributed information and loaned memorabilia to the MBC for the exhibit.

Discover more about our past on GeneralMills.com and on our Tumblr blog at GeneralMillsHistory.com. If you have a question about General Mills’ history, send our Archives team an email.  

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