With Television being the most common household gadget of the present times, advertisements are a part and parcel of our lives. Commercials with colourful visuals and catchy jingles are seen almost every minute while watching the TV. But there was always a first occurrence for everything. Have you ever wondered what was the first toy to be advertised on television? Read more to know!
We are very accustomed to seeing products of all kinds on screen, ranging from domestic items to gadgets. Kids are especially drawn by the toy advertisements broadcasted specifically to catch their attention.
1. What Was the First Toy to Be Advertised on Television?
Mr. Potato Head was the very first toy ever to be marketed on television, precisely on April 30th, 1952. If you are familiar with the Toy Story Franchise, you must have heard about the character of Mr. Potato Head.
However, Mr. Potato Head is a character in the renowned Pixar movie franchise ‘Toy Story’. He is one of the multiple toys in Andy’s collection. The details about the Potato Head character will be discussed later, but first, let us know more about its real-life existence before being a movie star!
But Mr. Potato Head is a real-life toy that the character adaptation is based on! This toy was immensely popular in the latter half of the 20th century.
In the original version of the toy, Hasbro distributed only plastic accessories. The children were to use real potatoes or other vegetables as the ‘Head’. However, vegetables moulded and rotted easily after playing. The rotting vegetables were a child hazard according to the government safety regulations introduced at that time.
Also, during the post-world-war era, wasting vegetables by using them for play was not seen very well by the public. Thus, in 1964 Hasbro eventually included a plastic potato head along with the accessories. The plastic body stayed in vogue to date, with only changes in size.
2. Things to Know About the First Toy Advertised on Television
2.1. Invention and Distribution
In 1949, Mr. Potato Head was invented by a New York-based artist and designer, George Lerner. In 1952, the toy was first distributed by the worldwide company Hasbro. Moreover, Mr. Potato Head is a toy that comes with an assemblage of plastic parts including eyes, nose ears, hands and feet, glasses, hats, and so on.
There is a plastic potato head, as the name suggests. The plastic pieces have push pins attached to them. They are to be pinned to the plastic body of the potato head. Children could create unique funny faces for their entertainment.
Some of us have played with vegetables as a child, creating faces and life-like facial features too. The inventor George Lerner had also gotten his inspiration from such a situation. It is known that he used to play with fruits and vegetables with his sisters during his childhood, where he would use different sizes of vegetables to create hands, legs, and other funny features.
He also observed his nephew play similarly and insert sticks into potatoes. This is when he got the idea to mass-produce such toys and commercialize them. Multiple toy manufacturers and big toy brands rejected Lerner’s pitch in the first two years after its invention. Just out of the horror and scarcity of the second world war, America was not comfortable with the idea of wastage of real that would occur if vegetables were used as playthings.
Thus Mr. Potato Head was initially introduced as giveaway prize toys inside cereal boxes. It was given away for free and was an attraction among the children. This increased the sales of the cereal. Soon after that, George Lerner pitched his idea to Hasbro, then a small company, who made it a stand-alone toy. Hasbro is now one of the world’s leading toy brands due to this huge success, and Mr. Potato Head is still in production!
2.2. The First Advertisement Directed to Children
Mr. Potato Head was a pioneer in invention and production for a variety of reasons. Not only was it the first toy advertised on Television, but it was also the first one to directly address children.
Before 1952, television commercials were directed to adults and adults only. Even the products meant for kids would be addressed to adults. Adults were the mediators who would watch commercials and decide what to purchase for their children.
The advertising campaign of Mr. Potato Head was the first one to be directly targeted at children. And this heavily increased sales. In the 1960s commercial itself, there are two children featured. Although the first original version of the commercial is not easily available, this later one features a boy and a girl conversing with a Hasbro mascot, playing with Mr. Potato Head, and attaching parts onto it.
Whether a good thing or bad, the increasing sale of plastic toys was a result of the “pester power” or “nag factor.” By pitching directly to the children, the advertisements would lead them to constantly badger the parents to buy the toy for them, which was given the term of pester power.
This was a revolutionary occurrence in the marketing sector, one that radically changed the process of targeting audiences through adverts. Thus, the first TV commercial of this plastic toy is of immense importance to the marketing and advertising industries.
2.3. Additions and Variations to Mr. Potato Head
In 1953, Mr. Potato Head was given a companion, Mrs. Potato Head. This followed the addition of Brother Spud and Sister Yam, which further extended the Potato Head family.
Later, in the 1960s, other additional variations were introduced: Kookie the Cucumber, Katie the Carrot, Pete the Pepper, and Oscar the Orange. They had separate plastic parts similar to those of Mr. Potato Head.
The ‘Mr. Potato Head’s Picnic Pals’ was another line that Hasbro began, which included a total of six characters. There was Frankie Frank, Mr. Ketchup Head, Frenchie Fry, Mr. Mustard Head, Mr. Soda Pop Head, and Willy Burger. This was Hasbro’s fast food toy line, and needless to say, there was a great display of creativity here!
The addition of various accessories kept increasing as time passed and production continued. Reflecting on the luxuries enjoyed during the 1950s, Hasbro began to provide a car, and a boat trailer as accessories along with the others. For Mrs. Potato Head, a car trailer and shopping trailer were made available.
The Potato head kit adapted and developed itself over the years. Here are some of the changes that the toy underwent. Potato Head mainly included several small plastic parts to play with. There were also sharp pins attached. All these were forced to change when the government issued a regulation in the 1960s. The pins and accessories were made to be less sharp.
The small pieces always posed a danger for cutting or choking kids. By 1975, the toy increased in size, almost double the original. The main body or the Head was enlarged and so were the detachable parts.
This made the toys safer and more accessible for the younger children, as there was a decrease in risks and safety hazards. As the accessories had to be made less sharp, pinning them to the body was not as easy as before. Hasbro decided to introduce flat slats in place of the holes. Again, in the 1980s, Hasbro introduced round holes in the main body. This allowed the children the freedom to insert the parts in any orientation.
2.4. Membership of the National Toy Hall of Fame
Mr. Potato Head was given an accolade of recognition in 2000. Mr. Potato Head was formally inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at the turn of the century.
The statue of Mr. Potato Head exists at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. If you are a Potato Head fan, or if you have kids, this place should be a must-visit on your bucket list!
Macy’s Thanksgiving parade honoured Mr. Potato Head by including a huge Potato Head balloon at the annual event. Even in Disney theme parks like Toy Story Midway Mania, statues and talking heads of Mr. Potato are featured.
2.5. Recent Additions
Moreover, Mr. Potato Head might have had his origins in the 1950s, but he is keeping up with the current times!
In 2020, Mr. Potato Head became environment-friendly! “Mr. Potato Goes Green” was the name of the sustainable version of the toy that Hasbro created. The material for manufacturing the toy was not plastic, rather it was a plant-based material derived from sugarcane.
In the year 2021, Hasbro updated the brand, and this time the honorifics of Mr. and Mrs. were removed for a gender-neutral version of the toy. This one was called just “Potato Head” and was produced alongside the original Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.
2.6. McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy
The practice of including toys or trinkets in a McDonald’s Happy Meal was introduced in 1979. It has become a very successful and well-received meal, especially among children. Potato Heads were not excluded from the list of toys you could receive with the meal.
Certain vintage Potato Head figures were given with Happy Meals during the 1980s. The iconic duo of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head was reintroduced in Happy Meals in November 2022 and was available in countries like the Philippines.
2.7. Mr. Potato Head in the Pop Culture
Not only does Mr. Potato Head have an everlasting market life, but his importance and influence in popular culture are also immense.
Furthermore, Mr. Potato Head is part of the cast of toys in four of the movies of the Toy Story franchise. The Toy Story fans of the younger generation may not know that most characters in the Disney-Pixar movies are animated renditions of already existing toys in the market. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head both appear in the Toy Story Franchise and are very loved and popular supporting characters in them.
At the end of the first movie of 1995, the addition of Mrs. Potato Head to the toy collection occurred. In the final scene of the movie, Mrs. Potato Head arrives at Christmas. She was a gift for Andy’s sister. In Toy Story Two 1999, Mr. Potato Head is accompanied by his wife. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head go on adventures with the other toys to rescue Woody, and by the end of the movie, the couple rescues and adopts three Aliens.
2.7.1. The Third Story Release
The third Toy Story movie, released in 2010, chronicles the life-threatening circumstances that the Potato Heads go through. In Toy Story 3, the Potato Heads and the other toys are eventually rescued by aliens and given a new person a young girl named Bonnie Anderson.
Moreover, voice actor Don Rickles passed away before he could record his voice for the fourth film. The film team as well as the Rickles family wanted to find a way to include old lines and recordings in the film. After an intricate and dedicated process of going through old unused recordings and tracking them, there were seven lines in the fourth film that the character delivered, in Don Rickels’ voice.
3. The Television Shows and Cartoons
3.1. Potato Head Kids
Cartoons for children were very much in vogue in the commercial world of the 1980s. An animated television series for kids was aired in 1986, called ‘Potato Head Kids.’ It was a fantasy series with a line of characters designed with diverse and creative personalities. In this cartoon, Mr. Potato Head was voiced by Kenneth Mars.
The Potato Head Kids even included an antagonistic gang, led by Grease. The show featured the characters doing various things in life and conflicting with the rival gang.
3.2. The Mr. Potato Head Show
The craze around this toy heavily inspired popular media. Mr. Potato Head was the inspiration as well as the protagonist for many TV shows, including the children’s TV series called ‘The Mr. Potato Head Show.’
It was a puppetry show that aired from September 1998 to February 1999 on Fox Kids. Mr. Potato Head, performed by Kevin Carlson, was the leader of the ‘kitchen crew’ in the show.
Mr. Potato Head has been made to appear as a guest feature in two Simpsons episodes. Mr. Potato Head along with other characters like Zucchini Head has been featured on the show The Family Guy. Various other sketch Comedy shows and even comic strips have appearances of this famous toy.
Mr. Potato has imparted considerable influence on the music industry as well. As early as 1927, a composition by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven was recorded. Jazz lovers consider this composition a masterpiece, and, as very famously commented in the film Manhattan (1979), think it to be “one of the reasons that life is worth living.”
The song deals with exposing the unrealistic Beauty standards of society, and touches upon topics like plastic surgery, body shaming, and concepts like ‘pain is beauty.’ To this day, Mr. Potato Head is being used to create discussions regarding such sensitive issues.
This was the trajectory of the life of America’s ‘most lovable toy.’ However, Mr. Potato Head is the classic toy that was the most coveted Christmas gift for kids in the mid-1900s. In the 1950s the toy that gained immense popularity among the children is still in production by Hasbro. Just like the real Hasbro plastic toy, Mr. Potato Head’s animated character can attach and detach parts of himself. He also has a secret chamber in his back, where he stores extra parts.
Mr. Potato Head’s character is in general a sarcastic one. He has a humorous but also hostile personality. Both Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are the main agents for providing comic relief. Interestingly, he has control of his appendages even when they are not attached to his main body!
This adds a crucial humour element to Mr. Potato Head’s personality. In Toy Story, it was the well-known American comedian, Don Jay Rickles who voiced the character of Mr. Potato Head and gave him life.
Moreover, Mr. Potato Head was a toy that belonged to Andy and eventually became one that belonged to Bonnie. He lived with Woody, Hamm, Buzz Lightyear, Alien toys, and others. The character first appears in Toy Story 1995, living among other toys, and especially friends with Hamm the piggy bank. He was hostile and moody to all the rest of Andy’s toys, in a humorous way.
With its many variants, green versions, and professional accessories, one can design toys: it is like creating vegetables with a body and personality!
Suggested Reading: How Much is Radio Advertising: Best 10 Tips to Decrease Advertisement Rates
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