The Quaker Oats guy has enrolled in the advertising equivalent of “The Biggest Loser.”
The venerable mascot with the distinctive blue hat and white, wavy hair has changed, his plumpness giving way to a more toned, svelte look. The modification is noticeable only if you’re looking for it or if, like me, you mistakenly drop two boxes of Quaker Oats products in your shopping cart at the same time. (As a bonus to online readers, I’ll include the side-by-side photo on The Review’s website. There you can also see, if you squint, two bottles of orange juice and a roll of paper towels joyriding in my cart. Ah, the fast-paced, super-sexy life of a newspaper columnist …)
Anyway, the slimming of “Larry” — I swear I’m not making this up, the Quaker Oats guy’s name is Larry, although “Otis” would have been more apropos — was the subject of an ABC News report a few months ago. It explained that the makers of Quaker Oats, in an attempt to appeal to more health-conscious consumers, gave an ad agency the go-ahead to drop Larry’s double-chin, shorten his hair slightly and airbrush away about five pounds. At 135 years old, we should all be so well preserved.
(”When my age you reach, look as good you will not,” Yoda says, making me long for a meeting between Larry and the 900-year-old Jedi master, with the former waving maybe a buggy whip and the latter brandishing his lightsaber. The smart money’s on Yoda.)
A few ironies exist in this artistic nip-and-tuck. Among them: Americans may be crazily health-conscious, imbibing record numbers of diet sodas and making reduced-fat foods vanish off the shelves quicker than drug charges off an OSU football player’s Alliance Police Department rap sheet, yet we are, as a nation, fatter than ever.
One-third of all Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and just 62 percent of us walk for more than 10 minutes a week. The impact on health care costs is, if you’ll pardon the pun, immense, with the Bipartisan Policy Center warning that the battle of the bulge could eventually bankrupt the country. Even if that’s more than a little alarmist, it’s still cause for concern, and something to think about as we go back to the buffet for seconds and thirds, tickle the backs of our throats with feathers to clear the decks for dessert, wash it all down with diet sodas and dream of the day when we’ll look like the new-and-improved Larry, the Quaker Oats mascot.
A second irony is that Quaker Oats has been owned since 2001 by PepsiCo, whose other products include super-healthy Pepsi Cola, Frito-Lay potato chips and Cheetos. However the War of the Waistline plays out, Pepsi will stand victorious.
Maybe this mascot-facelift tactic could pay handsome dividends for other brands, too. I would personally feel more at ease with Kool-Aid Man if he would trim down from a two-quart pitcher to an eight-ounce glass. (He could also stop smashing through brick walls and scaring the bejesus out of little kids and their parents. Just sayin’.) Colonel Sanders would be more trustworthy without facial hair, and a collagen injection would smooth those wrinkles under his eyes and erase about 10 years. McDonald’s has already more or less eliminated Ronald, but less cake makeup and a more healthy facial tone would make me stop clowning around in the drive-thru line and buy more hamburgers.
Until then, I’ll have to content myself with my new best friend, Larry the Thinner. I don’t want to get too accustomed to him, however. If he’s like most Americans, the old, chubby Quaker will be back, just as soon as he succumbs to one too many bowls of oatmeal-flavored ice cream or something.
cschillig at Twitter
Originally published Aug. 16, 2012, in The Alliance Review.