Tony the Tiger and Charlie the Tuna are obviously fictitious. But did you ever wonder about some of the other brand spokescharacters out there? We did. Here's what we found.
Character: Real or Fake?
Betty Crocker: Fake
In 1921, flooded with consumers' baking questions, Gold Medal Flour invented a character to provide "personalized" responses. The surname Crocker was borrowed from a recently retired employee, and Betty was chosen because it sounded friendly.
Chef Boyardee: Real
Hector Boiardi cooked at New York's Plaza Hotel before opening a Cleveland restaurant in 1929. Enamored customers asked for take-home jars of his pasta, and soon he focused full time on packaged meals, Americanizing his brand to "Boyardee."
Uncle Ben: A little of both
There really was a Texas farmer known as Uncle Ben, whose name was locally synonymous with fine rice. But he was likely dead when entrepreneur Gordon Harwell came up with the brand in 1946. A Houston maitre d', Frank Brown, posed for "Ben's" portrait.
Colonel Sanders: Real guy, fake military rank
Kentucky service-station owner Harland Sanders began cooking fried chicken for his customers in 1930. By 1935, Sanders had become such a phenomenon that governor Ruby Laffoon made him an honorary colonel in the state militia.
Little Debbie: Real
In 1960, O.D. McKee decided his 4-year-old granddaughter would be a great icon for his snack cakes. But he didn't tell Debbie's parents, who were "a little upset" when they saw the packages, says a spokesperson. Debbie became a company VP and still sits on the board.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.