Companies Shape Iconic Characters to Look and Act Healthier

PHOTO: Tony the Tiger the cartoon character associated with Frosted Flakes Cereal is seen here.

You may have noticed that some iconic cartoon characters you know and love are a little different now than they used to be. Some look slimmer, others push healthier habits. As the spotlight falls on the importance of improving diets, exercising and adopting a healthy lifestyle, companies charged with keeping up the appearance of these characters are giving them a healthier look and attitude.

Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said characters that change with the times are usually the result of companies interested in staying relevant to their audiences.

"Today more and more consumers are looking for ways to improve their health. And industry has been trying to address those consumer needs," she said. "There's a lot of research showing that very subtle messages like this resonate with consumers and affect their perceptions of products."

Here's a look at a few classic characters who have adopted healthier habits over the years.

Four Iconic Characters Get Health Makeovers

PHOTO: Larry, the Quaker Oats man, now looks slimmer and younger.
Larry, the Quaker Oats guy

At age 135, the man on the Quaker Oats label has never looked better.

The plump, beaming, white-haired man known as "Larry" recently got a subtle makeover, making him look slimmer and a little bit younger. He still has his hat and his snowy white hair.

Designers at Hornall Anderson, the Seattle-based firm charged with Larry's new look, took away his double chin and some of the plumpness from his face and neck, Michael Connors, the firm's vice president of design, told the Wall Street Journal. "We took about five pounds off him," Connors said.

They also shortened his hair slightly and revealed more of his shoulders, making his neck look longer.

Larry has been the symbol of Quaker Oats since 1877 and has been revamped a few times throughout the decades. His latest redesign is part of a wider effort by Quaker's owner PepsiCo to reinvigorate their brands.

"All of this is in line with our new advertising message which re-establishes the goodness and health benefits of Quaker oatmeal," said Candace Mueller Medina, Quaker's director of communications.

Four Iconic Characters Get Health Makeovers

PHOTO: Cookie monster, a character from Sesame Street is seen here in this file photo.
Sesame Workshop
Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster, the lovable glutton of Sesame Street, has been a staple of the PBS kids show since 1969, but in 2005, Cookie started changing his tune – and curbing his cookie habit.

Sesame Street producers began an initiative called Healthy Habits for Life to address concerns about childhood obesity.

"We thought a good character to help with this would be Cookie Monster because we know he doesn't have much self-control," said Rosmarie Truglio, senior vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop.

Cookie Monster began learning and talking about cookies as a "sometimes food." Rumors swirled that the show was out to change him into a "Veggie Monster" and pry the cookies out of his furry, blue hands. But Truglio said there were never any real changes to the beloved character.

"Cookie has always eaten all kinds of foods," she said. "When you're talking to really young children about whether or not to eat sweets, you don't want unhealthy foods to be forbidden. That's not realistic. But it is realistic to teach children to know what moderation means."

Four Iconic Characters Get Health Makeovers

PHOTO: Charlie the Tuna
Charlie the Tuna

Sorry, Charlie. Smoking is actually bad for you.

Starkist debuted its iconic cartoon tuna character in 1961. Famed advertising agency Leo Burnett gave him an image as a part of the hippest undersea crowd of the era – wearing berets, donning dim glasses and smoking cigars.

But as time went by and health concerns about smoking emerged, Charlie kicked his habit.

"Charlie was based off of a hipster character and in his original commercials was often surrounded by his cigar-smoking beatnik friends," said Jennifer Albert, Starkist's director of marketing. "Through the years he has kicked the cigar and now pursues a life of good taste and good health."

No one seems to know how Charlie and his friends were able to smoke under water.

Four Iconic Characters Get Health Makeovers

PHOTO: Tony the Tiger the cartoon character associated with Frosted Flakes Cereal is seen here.
Tony the Tiger

He's one of the grrrrrrrrrreatest and most memorable cartoon pitchmen of all time. But Tony the Tiger looks quite a bit different today than he did upon his debut.

When Tony was introduced in 1951 as the cartoon face of Sugar Frosted Flakes, his head was football shaped and his body was a bit scrawny. Today, Tony is a towering figure with a more muscular, athletic physique.

Harris said the change is likely due to Kellogg's desire to market the cereal to parents who are interested in keeping their kids healthy and active.

"Now, Tony the Tiger is very active and athletic and it appears as if they're trying to make these cereals seem healthier by associating it with sports and physical activity," she said.

Harris said the change is likely due to Kellogg's desire to market Frosted Flakes to parents who are interested in keeping their kids healthy and active, even though the high sugar and low fiber content of the cereal makes it not a healthy choice.

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