Funny Face is fun to drink,
The one to drink when you’re having fun!
Funny Face is fun to drink.
Fun to drink for everyone!
That’s how the jingle went in the early television commercials — and it was true. Kids really found Funny Face fun to drink! Of course, zany characters and great mail-away premiums didn’t hurt any, either.
In the early Sixties, Kool-Aid was the undisputed powdered-drink-mix king. However, consumers were unhappy over the amount of sugar used in the preparation of a pitcher of Kool-Aid. In an effort to combat this dissatisfaction companies were searching for a substitute for sugar, an alternate that arrived in the form of an artificial sweetener named sodium cyclamate. Pillsbury processed sodium cyclamate into the product Sweet*10 in 1962, which allowed them to create foods that could be advertised as “sugar free” and “artificially sweetened.” With sugar eliminated, moms approved and sales rose on these products.
Encouraged by the promise of Sweet*10. Pillsbury decided to challenge Kool-Aid with its own powdered drink mix. In 1963, Pillsbury hired Campbell Mithun Advertising to design a face for its product. Inspired by his daughter, Creative Director Hal Silverman dreamed up the Funny Face characters. “l actually created them for my daughter, Jill, who was about four years old at the time,” Silverman wrote in a post on the Retroland website in 2013.
“My nickname for her was Freckle Face—and from that beginning, all the characters just fell into place. Needless to say, my daughter—and all her friends—had a wonderful time playing with the names, and pretending to be the characters,”Hal Silverman
While Silverman sketched out the initial designs for the characters, the final art used on the packages was drawn by Lowell Herrera.
The original six characters (and flavors) hit the stores in 1964, consisting of Freckle Face Strawberry, Goofy Grape, Loud-Mouth Lime, Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry, Chinese Cherry, and Injun Orange. Don’t remember the last two? That’s because they were replaced the next year by Choo Choo Cherry and Jolly Olly Orange. Reports are mixed as to whether there were complaints from the public or if it was strictly an internal decision, but Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange were deemed inappropriate and offensive.
“At the time,” Silverman explained, “l was naive enough not to realize that the names Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange could be hurtful to Chinese and Native Americans. My sincere apologies, at this late date, to anyone I offended.” Pillsbury employed an aggressive marketing strategy to launch the new drink mix.
While the Kool-Aid Man had to represent every flavor of Kool-Aid, Pillsbury provided different cartoon characters for each flavor, making it easy for children to spot their favorites. Stores were encouraged to use specially designed stands to display Funny Face packets. Advertisements were placed in the Sunday funnies in newspapers nationwide and in the children’s magazine Jack and Jill. Commercials aired on television with Goofy Grape and the gang introducing themselves to young shoppers. Additionally, stores gave out promotional plastic finger puppets of the six characters along with purchases of Funny Face packets.
Sales were strong enough to encourage Pillsbury to expand its marketing campaign in 1965. Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange took their final bow, and a new flavor joined the group—Lefty Lemon. New promotional products were offered, including a mail-away 16-page fun book and in-store paper character masks. Contests were advertised with 10,000 Goofy Grape watches and 10,000 store drink stands up for grabs. A set of six pillows made in the images of the original six characters were made and given exclusively to Pillsbury executives.
Funny Face ads continued in the Sunday comics and a new television commercial aired with Choo Choo Cherry and Jolly Olly Orange (but if you watch carefully, you can still see Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange atop the drink stand). One in-store poster took an indirect swipe at Kool-Aid, showing the seven cartoon figures above the slogan “Funny Face is fun to drink” and atop the sign sat the statement “Notice how… when products compete, they get better.”
Evidently the strategy was working, as Pillsbury offered new promotions in 1966. Two more contests were held with 10,000 drink stands (redesigned to show the new cherry, orange, and lemon characters) and 10,000 Funny Face Fun Houses up for grabs. While not an official member of the Funny Face family, chocolate and strawberry Moo Juice hit the shelves as Pillsbury’s way to jazz up milk.
Probably the most interesting promotion was an ad in the Sunday color section offering fans a seven-inch, 33 1/3 RPM record titled “Goofy Grape Sings.” For 50 cents and one Funny Face label, you could listen to Goofy Grape and the gang sing nine different silly songs. The voices for the record (as well as the television commercials) were provided by the versatile Paul Frees, who you might recognize from his work on various Jay Ward Productions cartoons (like Rocky and Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle) and Rankin-Bass animated holiday features.
The product line continued to expand in 1967 when Captain Black Cherry joined the group and Loud-Mouth Punch replaced Loud-Mouth Lime (who temporarily merged with Lefty Lemon for the short-lived Lefty Lemon Lime). In an effort to reach more mature consumers, Pillsbury tested the waters with Tart N’ Tangy Lemon and Tart N’ Tangy Orange. The Thirst Fighters premiered this year with Baron Von Lemon, Crash Orange, and Sir Reginald Lime Lime—three drink mixes aimed at adults that used more sophisticated humor in the advertising.
Promotions scaled back to only one contest, with a prize of one in 5,000 Loud-Mouth Lime Walkie Talkies and one Sunday newspaper advertisement mail-away. The gimmick this time was that in exchange for a written request and the completed ad form, you would receive a Funny Face Fun Book and letter from either Choo Choo Cherry, Freckle Face Strawberry, Goofy Crape, Lefty Lemon, or Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry. Pillsbury seemed comfortable with Funny Face’s niche in the grocery stores, as its 1968 promotions dropped to just two mail-aways—one for a Funny Face Cook Book and another for a drink stand display.
Then, disaster stuck when a 1966 study by Abbott Laboratories was made public. The study stated that sodium cyclamate caused “chronic toxicity” in test animals. This was followed by a report (also by Abbott Laboratories) in 1969 that cyclamate-saccharin mixtures commonly used as artificial sweeteners in food products (like Funny Face) resulted in a rise in bladder cancer in rats. This resulted in the banning of cyclamates in the United States.
It was revealed later that during the study tumors only appeared in eight out of 240 rats (approximately 3%) and that the amount of sweetener fed to the rats was proportionately equal to an adult drinking 550 cans of diet soda daily. Further testing, some as recent as the year 2000, have been unable to prove any connection between cyclamates and cancer, yet the ban remains.
The Funny Face formula was quickly remade. At first, packets read “No cyclamate—just add sugar”, but it was not long before packets with sugar added hit the market. In 1969, in an effort to recover from the huge revenue loss due to the cyclamate scare, Pillsbury came out with two new promotions. The first was a mail-away for Funny Face pillows. Send the form with and five presweetened or ten unsweetened packages and a dollar in exchange for the pillow of your choice—either Choo Choo Cherry, Freckle Face Strawberry, Goofy Grape, or Lefty Lemon.
The second promotion (a major brainstorm) was none other than the fondly remembered Funny Face mugs! In exchange for seven drink packets, Pillsbury sent four mugs—Choo Choo Cherry, Freckle Face Strawberry, Goofy Grape, and Lefty Lemon, This proved so popular that five more mugs were added later and the promotion stayed available for the remainder of Funny Face’s life in the supermarket.
In 1970, Pillsbury was still hurting from the cyclamate reports, so free packets of Funny Face were given away at Union 76 gas stations with each fill-up to help bring in new consumers, Unfortunately. the loss of cyclamate took away the company’s major edge over Kool-Aid, so over the next decade, Pillsbury had to rely on the popularity of the characters and the promotional premiums. Contests had ceased, but the mail-away offers continued.
Funny Face promotions sometimes appeared in the Sunday funnies supplements of newspapers, including these two, from 1967 and 1973, respectively. Another thing that Funny Face had over Kool-Aid was the introduction of the two-quart can of powdered mix that made over 15-quarts of liquid refreshment.
New television commercials were made to broaden the appeal to consumers. No more silly characters telling children that Funny Face was fun to drink. The new approach was aimed at teens and adults, showing older boys playing basketball on a hot summer day while Goofy Grape and gang sang, “When you’re hot, you’re hot. We got a lot, a lot!” Yes, Funny Face is cooling and thirst-quenching!
The Funny Face Walkers wandered onto the scene in 1971. For seven presweetened or 14 unsweetened packs, four Walkers (Choo Choo Cherry, Goofy Crape, Jolly Olly Orange, and Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry) arrived in the mail (later, each Walker was available individually). The Walkers were great toys, designed with wobbly legs and feet that walked when pulled by a string. They came with a plastic coin that acted as a weight.
Tie one end of the string to the Walker and the other end to the coin. Then release the coin over a ledge (like the edge of a table) and the Walker wobbled as it was pulled by the string. Better pay attention, though, for once the Walker reached the ledge, it plummeted to the ground. Made of cheap plastic and held together by thin pegs in short brackets, the Walkers often broke when they hit the floor.
To encourage mothers to buy Funny Face, Pillsbury added Vitamin C to the drink mixes in 1972. New flavors Chilly Cherry Cola and Rah Rah Root Beer were added to the line-up. For mail-aways, you could get the plastic Goofy Grape kite through one ad, or send off for a Funny Face Club Fun Kit—complete with a membership card, a fun book, a tab button, a balloon, iron-ons, and stickers.
In 1973 you could order the third variation on the Goofy Grape pitcher, a red or purple Bianchi folding bike. and Funny Face Plush Pals Pillows (a set of three—Choo Choo Cherry, Goofy Grape, and Lefty Lemon). A new Goofy Grape watch was offered in 1974, as were mugs of new flavors Rudy Tutti Frutti and With- It Watermelon (Pistol Pink Lemonade also arrived at this time, but did not warrant a mug).
The first Pillsbury company crossover occurred in 1975 when Goofy Grape met Poppin Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy, on a 13 x 13-inch canvas back pack—available for off for a Funny Face Club Fun Kit (consisting of a certificate, a fun book, and a Goofy Grape tab button), Funny Straws, Jolly Olly only $195 and one label from Pillsbury Slice ‘N Bake Cookies and one can label (or three packages) of Funny Face Drink Mix.
Also available that year was a Goofy Grape sweatshirt (child sizes only) and Funny Face character iron-ons that were found free inside packages and cans of drink mix. The mugs continued to be offered over the next few years, just as the iron-ons continued to be found in packages and cans. The only new premium to be offered by Pillsbury came in 1977 with the mail-away offer for plastic molds to be used for homemade frozen “popsicles.”
By John SchwinianPublished in RetroFan Winter 2019