Congratulations, Tony, on reaching your 60th birthday. You’re still one of the Gr-r-reatest ad icons of all time, no doubt about it. The wonder is you’ve managed to survive the punishing lifestyle of a rock-star entertainer almost unscarred. Not only have you outlived Elvis, you’ve done more botox makeovers than Tom Jones and Colonel Gaddafi combined, and yet unquestionably you look a lot fitter than either.
Sometimes I do worry, though. How many more happy returns can you have? You see the trouble is all entertainers – no matter how versatile, how willing to change with the times – have a shelf-life. Even with an agent as market-wise as Leo Burnett behind you, there will come a time when the Tony schtick no longer connects with contemporary audiences.
I was reminded just how far you had come in your career by a glimpse of one of your early performances. It was an ad from 1962, I think.
Goodness me, how permissive we were in those days with the sugar drug. Why, you and your gang (you did a lot more group appearances then) were pushing it with more abandon than an LSD love-in. The gig was Kellogg’s Sweet-eatin’ carnival time and you were all at it, shamelessly trying to get kids to ingest the stuff with the seductive promise of a brand-new shilling(!). There was Yogi Bear dancing on his Sugar Smacks, Noddy being twicicles as nicicles on his Ricicles, some stick insect who looked a bit like Uncle Sam doing an All Stars routine, and Coco on his Pops prancing about in an ethnically insensitive ‘Black and White Minstrel’ mask. Most of all, though, I remember you fronting the act – a leaner, younger, more whimsical version of yourself admittedly, but clearly identifiable with today’s butch, muscle-bound football persona if only because of the stripes.
They’ve all passed into history now. But you, a reformed user and pusher of the sugar drug, how did you survive and go on to be a leading healthy lifestyle advocate?
Well I guess it’s because you’re smarter than the average Yogi Bear. Even though the health police are out to get you for covertly promoting a sugar-coated cereal to young children, you always manage to stay one step ahead of the law.
I caught up with your latest act the other day and have to say your audience manipulation skills are undimmed by time. Which, sadly, is more than can be said of your moral message.
There you were on American television (ESPN sports network, I think) – Dad, Son, and Tony – tossing a ball about in the backyard, every inch the healthy football aficionados. Then it’s cut to the kitchen for some post-game flakes underlined by the suggestively saccharine voiceover: “Share what you love with who you love.”
All these loaded associations – sport, sugary foods, kids – are close to the line these days. If not illegal, they soon will be. But here, Tony, you and your impresario Kellogg have been very clever. The campaign is not ostensibly aimed at children at all. It cashes in on the brand nostalgia of dads, who have probably known Tony all their lives. It just so happens that more and more American men are doing the shopping these days. And that’s what you are tapping into. Or so you say.