50 years of poppin’ from a can
We’re celebrating the Doughboy’s big birthday – November 7, 1965 – by looking back at the creation and the enduring popularity of “Poppin’ Fresh.”
Must be that giggle, right?
The “birth” of the Doughboy
The concept for the Doughboy came from Rudy Perz, then the creative director at the Leo Burnett ad agency in Chicago, Illinois.
Perz imagined him popping out of a can of Pillsbury refrigerated biscuit dough.
Perz soon pitched the Doughboy idea to agency head Leo Burnett, who loved it. Pillsbury executives were equally excited after they heard the pitch.
Taking him to TV
Pillsbury approved a plan for 13 Doughboy commercials out of the gate. Perz and the creative team wanted to bring him to life with stop motion animation, similar to something in the opening credits for “The Dinah Shore Show.”
Cascade Studios in Los Angeles, California, made a bendable puppet out of plaster and foam. The animators used five bodies and 15 heads to create numerous looks and positions for the Doughboy’s ads. It took 24 individual shots of the Doughboy for every second of animated action in each commercial.
The doll cost about $16,000 (about $120,000 in today’s dollars) – and would be used in the first commercial. That spot, for Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls, is referred to as “Dancing Fingers.”
It includes a singing Doughboy who dances with a woman’s hand. For the voice, Paul Frees was chosen by Perz and the team, beating out roughly 50 actors who auditioned (including Paul Winchell, “Tigger” from Winnie the Pooh).
The Doughboy’s first words were “Hi! I’m Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy.” And the belly poke – and giggle – was there from the beginning too.
The blue-eyed Doughboy – standing just 8 3/4″ tall – has always been dressed in a chef’s hat bearing the Pillsbury logo as well as a white neckerchief.
An advertising icon
Within three years of his television debut in 1965, the Doughboy had an 87% recognition factor among American consumers. Today he continues to rank as one of the most recognizable characters.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago recently included him in an exhibit of their top 10 advertising icons. In 1999, Advertising Age ranked him No. 6 among the Top 10 advertising icons of the 20th century.
Historically described as “happy, friendly, warm and responsive,” the Doughboy team at Leo Burnett team once said “his durability lies in human involvement ……That’s why you have to give him a meaningful role within the context of each commercial as if he were the lead player in a 30-second drama. And it all has to be cute and human.”
On TV, he’s also appeared as an opera singer, a rap artist, a rock star, a poet, a painter, a ballet dancer, a skydiver and skateboarder. He also has been seen playing the harmonica, accordion, bugle, electric guitar and violin.
The most recent commercial with the Doughboy debuted last November, titled “The Gift,” which featured him receiving a pair of jeans from a family. Of course, the Doughboy also has appeared in numerous print ads, in magazines and newspapers.
A Doughboy family?
A companion character for the Doughboy, Poppie Fresh, was introduced in 1973 and was seen in television and print advertising. Granmommer and Granpopper also appeared in 1974, along with Uncle Rollie. There was also a Fresh family teddy bear, Cup Cake that was produced as a stuffed animal.
In 1974, a white vinyl playhouse that doubled as a carrying case for the Doughboy family finger puppets was introduced. The set included Poppin’ Fresh, Poppie, their son Popper and daughter Bun-Bun. The family would not be complete without the family’s dog, Flapjack and the cat named Biscuit.
Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest
The Doughboy also has been front and center at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest for many years as well.
Most recently, in Nashville, Tennessee. He typically mingles with finalists on the contest floor, takes photos with attendees in the ballroom and hallways, and is part of the awards ceremony (and last year, category winners received Nashville-themed Doughboy statuettes).
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Since 2009, a giant balloon of Poppin’ Fresh has been part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
A new version of the balloon made its debut in 2014.
Today, the Doughboy is now in nearly 30 countries – and is featured on products ranging from atta flour in India to frozen pizza in Greece.
In Latin America, he’s “El Masin,” which translates to “The Little Dough.” In Germany and Austria, he answers to the name “Teigmännchen” or “The Little Dough Man.” And in Israel, he’s called Efi – a Hebrew nickname for “cute little baker.”
Most importantly, no matter where in the world you see him, the Pillsbury Doughboy is still considered a helper and friend to cooks of all kinds.