Top Advertising Icons and Characters for Collectors

01
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The Campbell Soup Kids

Campbell Soup Boy
Campbell Soup Boy. Barb Crews

It was 1904 and the Campbell Kids were born when illustrator Grace Wiederseim (later known as Drayton) sketches them for a series of streetcar advertisements. They started out as little kids playing games but they quickly grew up. According to the Campbell Soup Company "the Campbell Kids mature over time and begin performing more traditional adult tasks such as climbing a fireman's ladder and delivering ice". They quickly became very popular and still are one of the most recognized advertising figures today.

The kids have spawned a huge business in collectibles with pins, postcards, dishes and of course dolls. Lots of dolls! The first licensed doll was from Horseman in 1910 -- this license continued until 1914, during which time they produced several various styles. Over the years the dolls have been produced as rag dolls, composition, porcelain, rubber and vinyl. The dolls are still licensed (by numerous companies) and sold today. Annual Christmas ornaments are offered each year by the company, as well as licensed ornaments sold by other companies. Tins, recipe books, kitchen decor and table top, salt and peppers, toys -- the list would take pages just to mention the types of items produced and sold. Many of the vintage Campbells' items were available as premiums, making them just a little harder to acquire and usually adding to the value.

Although the kids have changed a little, maybe slimmed down a bit and given more contemporary clothing -- they have never lost the appealing look they first had in 1904. They're adorable and extremely collectible in many different forms.

  • Campbell Soup Prices and Values
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  • -- Compare Prices

02
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The M & M Guys - Top Advertising Icon

M & M Toppers
M & M Toppers. Ginny Wolfe

The story is told in many online and in books, but to recap, M & M's were first sold to American soldiers in 1941 after Mars Sr. met Spanish soldiers eating hard sugar-encased chocolate candies during the Spanish Civil War. He came home, developed the recipe and the product was sold to American soldiers as a snack that traveled well and easily in all climates. At the time the candies were packaged in cardboard tubes. By the late forties they were a popular candy with the public and the packaging changed to brown paper bag we still know today. The M & M characters were first introduced in 1954, on TV in 1972 and are more popular than ever today. The clever and funny commercials really catch the eye and make us identify with the different guys, like feeling sorry for Orange and laughing at Red's antics!

Every holiday season will see tons of M & M merchandise being sold at discount and department stores, as well as online in the M & M official store. And I do mean every holiday season, Halloween, Valentine's Day as well as Christmas. The Internet has been kind to M & M collectors as they now can easily buy the products from around the world. Toppers are particularly popular, as well as the candy dispensers, plush figures, pins and ceramic ware. The M & M online store has merchandise for every room in your house and if you are in Las Vegas, it's a must visit!

03
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Planters' Mr. Peanut - Top Advertising Icon

Large Mr. Peanut Statue
Large Mr. Peanut Statue. Morphy Auctions

Mr. Peanut is another oldie, but goodie. I can still smell the roasted peanuts as we used to walk by the Planter Peanut store in Times Square many years ago. Maybe that memory helped move him up to number three, but it's more than that. According to Hake's Guide to Advertising Collectibles, Mr. Peanut was chosen after a company-sponsored contest in 1916. Of course, he has gone through several updates over the years, but he has become more noticeable again on TV commercials and a great moving billboard in Times Square. Mr. Peanut collectibles consist of books, posters, jars, pins, dolls, silverware, banks, watches, and salt/pepper sets. Planters has a terrific web site with lots of historical pictures and ads.

Note: Mr. Peanut has his share of reproductions and fantasy items. Watch out for anything made by "McCoy", as the company never made a Mr. Peanut jar or bank. Glass counter jars have also been reproduced, all those colored glass ones seen? They're fakes! Make sure you know what you're buying and do the homework before spending money on an item you are not familiar with.

04
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Aunt Jemima - Top Advertising Icon

1951 Aunt Jemima Advertisement
1951 Aunt Jemima Advertisement. Barb Crews

Aunt Jemima is well over 100 years old and very visible today, although she certainly has changed quite a bit reflecting our consciousness of the black culture.

From Ad Age: "Few commercial icons deserve to be called "cultural touchstones" of significant political and social change. But the Aunt Jemima trademark is one of them."

Aunt Jemima has changed from a heavy-set woman wearing a bandana and apron, in 1968 she became younger and thinner; a hair band was added and later removed; and in 1989 she got a new hair style, along with pearl earrings and a lace collar.

There is a wealth of Aunt Jemima collectibles available and wealth is what you need to buy some of the older pieces! But don't let that stop you from collecting Aunt Jemima -- you can find plenty of goodies at reasonable prices.

Note: Aunt Jemima items have been both widely reproduced and mis-represented. Not every black woman collectible is an authentic "Aunt Jemima". Do your research and thoroughly check out items before purchasing.

05
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Elsie the Cow - Advertising Icon

Elsie the Cow Cookie Jar. Hake's Americana and Collectibles

Although Elsie made her first appearance in 1936 as part of a quartet, she was so popular that by 1939 Elsie started appearing in her own advertisements.

Elsie is still a popular symbol for Borden Dairy products. Many advertisements during WWII were public service announcements touting public service announcements, numerous non-dairy Borden products, war bonds and how Borden's helped the war effort.

Elsie has been made into dolls, toys, lamps, mugs, ceramic items, cookie jars, as well as having her face adorn other items, including signs, buttons and postcards.

  • Cookie Jar Patent

06
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Pillsbury Doughboy - Advertising Icon

Lifesize Doughboy. Barb Crews

Our favorite baker is over 40 years old and is another youngster in this group of mostly elders.

The Doughboy made his debut in a crescent roll commercial and within two years, according to General Mills, he had 87% recognition. The way the story is told, a group from the Leo Burnett advertising agency was sitting in a meeting surrounded by cans of dough. A can was popped open and the Doughboy was born!

As you can imagine, Pillsbury Doughboy is on hundreds of collectibles --- mostly kitchen related, but not exclusively. Clothing, radios, ornaments, pictures, towels, Christmas ornaments --he has it all.

07
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Ronald McDonald - Advertising Icon

Instantly recognizable to kids world-wide, Ronald McDonald is more than a smiling face. He also stands for a safe harbor and hope for little ones and their families during times of hospitalization at the Ronald McDonald houses throughout the country.

Ronald was first introduced in 1963 in Washington State by Oscar Goldstein, a local franchisee.

Ronald has acted in movies, has his own foundation and according to "Advertising Age", has also danced with the New York City Rockettes. Ronald McDonald has been depicted through numerous collectibles, including plates, vinyl figures, dolls, bobble heads, beanie babies, ornaments, ceramic items and posters. He is also been on lunch boxes, watches, games, and glasses -- both drinking and sun.

08
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Quaker Oats Man - Advertising Icon

Quaker Oats Cookie Jar. Barb Crews

I'm not quite sure how old the stately looking gentlemen is, but he's shown on a button from 1898, so he is well over 100!

Why do I like him? He's just so darn trustworthy looking, who wouldn't trust his cereal and buy his products.

Early collectibles include buttons, trade cards, booklets, a china bowl in 1910, plastic-ware from F & F, tins and, of course my favorite, cookie jars. Quaker Oats had quite a few other premium items that didn't necessarily include the Quaker Oat man such as Roy Rogers, baseball cards from the thirties, hockey cards in the fifties and seventies. But the best one of all is the square inch of land deeds in the Yukon Territory in 1955. I'm still looking for mine!

09
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Tony the Tiger - Advertising Icon

Tony the Tiger Cookie Jars
Tony the Tiger Cookie Jars. Barb Crews

After all, He's Grrreat! Tony has been eligible for AARP for a few years, but he still looks pretty darn good.

Tony was born in 1952 as part of a quartet of characters for Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes. Tony wound up being the most popular and quickly pushed the others into oblivion. After all who remembers Newt the Gnu or Elmo the Elephant? Katy the Kangaroo was the fourth character and she did share some early box-front space with Tony.

Like many of the characters on the icon list, Tony is depicted in plush toys and dolls, telephone, watches, cookie jars, tins and on cereal bowls.

To be picked for this list of top ten advertising icons, a character has to be instantly recognized and Tony certainly fits that criteria.

More:

  • Kelloggs and Tony the Tiger
  • Tony the Tiger Text Price List
  • Tony Breakfast set from Zrike

10
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Ernie the Keebler Elf - Advertising Icons

Ernie the Keebler Elf
Ernie the Keebler Elf. Barb Crews

Ernie was born in 1968 (created by Robert J. Noel II) to represent the Keebler brand. The elves live and work in a cozy Hollow tree -- not a cold factory. And although he was born in 1968, Ernie first appearance wasn't until1970. Other members of the family include: Ma Keebler, Ernie's mother; Fast Eddie; Dizzy and Edison Keebler, inventor of the rider mixer for cookie dough.

Ernie is depicted in plush dolls, bean bag toys, telephones, tins, cookie jars, toy food sets, key chains, clocks. Just about anything that can get a logo emblazoned on it has probably seen Ernie.

There is no mistaking a Keebler Elf, everyone knows who they are and that's what makes a good brand icon. If you need a little magic in your life, may I suggest adding a few elves to your collection!