Before BuzzBee flew onto the cereal scene, Cheerios had a little boy and girl as their brand mascots — The Cheerios Kid and Sue.
Created by Joe Harris (also credited for creating Underdog the Trix Rabbit), The Cheerios Kid was a solidary figure when he made his debut in the 1950s. He would rescue damsels in distress in minute-long commercials that featured cliffhangers about 15 seconds in to switch gears and talk about Cheerios.
Every little “O” in a bowl of Cheerios was made from oats to help build strong bones and lively muscles. After eating a bowl full of Cheerios, The Cheerios Kid would flex his muscle and the audience could see an “O” inside his arm. The combination of the “Big G and little O” created “go!” power, giving The Cheerios Kid the ability to save the damsel. All thanks to his secret weapon, Cheerios!
In 1953, The Cheerios Kid was introduced to a new companion — Sue! Commercials starring the pair would often rhyme and feature Sue in need of rescue from some unpleasant villains. Once again, this was a job for The Cheerios Kid and Cheerios muscle!
As time progressed, The Cheerios Kid and Sue found themselves no longer in hot pursuit from evil villains. Giants, animated tornadoes, and even gorillas in the jungle chased them all the way to the 1980s.
The duo was retired shortly afterward, but fans remained nostalgic for them and hopeful for a comeback. In 2012, General Mills decided to reinvent The Cheerios Kid and Sue for a new campaign about how whole oat cereals, like Cheerios, could help lower cholesterol as part of a heart healthy diet. And who better to reach out to for help than the team at Pat-Man Studios — now known as Danger Pigeon Studios.
So, what’s it like to reinvent brand mascots? We caught up with Pat Giles, Danger Pigeon’s COO and Creative Director, for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at bringing the pair back in 2012.
AW: When you were first approached to revive these characters for Cheerios, were you already familiar with them?
PG: I remember him [The Cheerios Kid] from growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but his heyday was really in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We were initially approached to do a potential team-up with the Cheerios Kid and Bullwinkle, reminiscent of this spot from the early sixties. This, of course, made me giddy as I am a huge fan of this era of animation.
AW: These mascots hadn’t been animated since the 1980s and a lot had changed within two decades. Did you face any challenges animating them again?
PG: Technology changes a lot of things, but it also reinvigorates older ways of doing things. In the ‘50s the “UPA” style of animation was very spare and stylized. This style was very successful in the early days of television, particularly in advertising, because it was very graphic and stood out on the small screens. In the last 15 years or so, animation programs like Flash (now Adobe Animate) and After Effects helped usher in a resurgence of this style. My team and I didn’t see it as a challenge; it was a huge thrill to be animating in this classic style. Some of the greats from Jay Ward ’s studio animated some of his spots, as well as “Peanuts” great Bill Melendez!
AW: How long did it take to create the 2012 commercial?
PG: It was a pretty compressed schedule, so it was under 8 weeks from idea to final picture. We were a small crew, too. I wrote and directed it, and animators Mike Luzzi, Frank Summers and Carly Monardo did the heavy lifting.
AW: Who voiced the new Cheerios Kid and Sue?
PG: Veteran VO actor Ashley Albert was The Kid. She and I worked on a lot of stuff together over the years, and she was especially good at doing kid voices. Kate Simses was hysterical as the slightly disgusted Sue. We really tried to capture a vocal style of days gone by, too. Ashley and Kate were great to work with.
AW: The audience watching them is made up of actual Cheerios! How were did you add real Cheerios into the animated commercial?
PG: That’s where After Effects came in very handy! That effect would have been difficult in the 60’s, but not today.
AW: What was the reception like to that spot?
PG: I think it was well received! I know it was a very unorthodox way to talk about the topic, which made it more fun to make.
AW: Now that it’s six years later, where are The Cheerios Kid and Sue today?
PG: I did notice that General Mills used our designs for a special retro box! I hope they do more with him and Sue!
You forgot to point out that, in those ’80s commercials, Sue ate Cheerios and also got Cheerios muscle!
You’re right! Great catch!