When Peter Lohmeier first joined Leo Burnett in 1974, the Kellogg’s Froot Loops account, brightly colored mascot Toucan Sam, and its tagline “Follow your nose!” had already been with the agency for four years. The cereal had been around much longer than that, debuting in 1963. In time, Lohmeier would rise from rotating through offices (there wasn’t any office space available when he arrived) with a tiny cardboard box full of his belongings to become a creative director and work at the agency for 30 years.
First on the agenda, along with handling accounts for critter clients like 9Lives and Pillsbury, was the task of taking care of Toucan Sam. Little did Lohmeier know that the design work he put in then would ensure the mascot stay beloved with adults and kids everywhere for decades.
Who was this unusual bird and why did he savor Froot Loops so much? When I spoke to Lohmeier a few months ago, he admitted that there was a specific celebrity who inspired the icon’s persona. “Toucan Sam was structured after the actor Ronald Colman,” Lohmeier explained, “Colman was dashing, debonair. Toucan Sam needed to sound a bit exotic because he had such a different edge than most characters.”
That edge — one of wit and elegance — tied in nicely with both the brand and its mascot. When it was initially introduced, Froot Loops contained orange, lemon, and lime flavors. Real toucans eat fruit, so the character of Toucan Sam had a similar diet. He caught the breakfast scent and followed his nose to find and eat the fruity cereal. Even the three shades on his beak reflected his quest, then-representing the colors of the original Froot Loops lineup.
Toucan Sam didn’t follow his nose alone either. He had a trio of nephews, Puey, Susey, and Louis, who acted as his younger counterpoints. “Toucan Sam was their teacher and was always a bit older than the nephews.” Lohmeier says. As such, the nephews could literally be stand-ins for real children watching the commercials that could react and have fun.
What exactly did Toucan Sam teach his baby nephews during their impressionable years? Pig Latin! The foursome would experience action-packed adventures decades later, but as baby birds they all took Pig Latin 101 lessons. Voice actor Mel Blanc provided the icon’s voice in the beginning, with Paul Frees adopting a British accent and Maurice LaMarche taking on the role after Frees passed away in 1988.
Lohmeier describes the storyboards he did for the character over the years as “a colorful labyrinth of situations.” While Lohmeier worked on tons of Froot Loops campaigns, he recalls one in particular from the 1990s that stood out the most. This commercial spot depicts teenage test subjects being studied for experiments. Suddenly, Froot Loops start to invade the subconscious! The subject’s taste and smell senses are overwhelmed and so is the machinery, which fizzles out once Toucan Sam shows up. Lohmeier notes that back then, Toucan Sam was depicted as being younger and targeted teenagers along with kids. The “dream campaign” was a hit, not a snooze, with fans and gradually evolved to feature new flavors.
Today, Lohmeier continues to do freelance work with Kellogg’s and carries an special soft spot for the “Follow Your Nose” campaign and its mascot in his heart. He still believes there’s more than enough room for Toucan Sam to exist in today’s landscape, so long as the character is true to its sense of self. “If you have a character, you have to really know that character. You have to write like that. You have to be in their shoes.”