On Wednesday, January 22, I read an announcement of the death of advertising icon, Mr. Peanut. Wait, What?!
Apparently in advance of a big Super Bowl ad, Planters made the announcement through a series of tweets and news releases about Mr. Peanut; "In the ultimate selfless act, he sacrificed himself to save his friends when they needed him most."
Planters teased that his funeral would take place during the broadcast of Super Bowl LIV, the Feb. 2 showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami.
According to a creative leader of the advertising campaign, killing off the iconic 104-year-old nut had to do with the phenomenon of how people mourn the deaths of fictional characters.
The Planters Peanut Company was founded in 1906, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania by an Italian-born businessman, Amedeo Obici. Two years later it was incorporated as the Planters Nut and Chocolate Company.
In 1916, Planters held a mascot contest. The winner was 14-year-old Antonio Gentile, who drew a “little peanut person” and won $5. After Gentile's design was chosen, the commercial artist Andrew S. Wallach added the monocle, top hat, and cane to create the iconic character. According to Planters, Mr. Peanut is something of an informal moniker, as the full name given to him by Gentile was Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.
The original drawings are held by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Mr. Peanut has appeared on almost every Planters package and advertisement.
By the mid-1930s, Mr. Peanut had come to symbolize the entire peanut industry. Planters Peanuts opened hundreds of stores around the country in the 1930s and 1940s, including a shop along Atlantic City’s boardwalk.
By the late 1930s, Mr. Peanut had appeared on his first billboard in Times Square. He starred in his first TV commercial in the 1950s. The character was welcomed into Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame in 2004.
Mr. Peanut has appeared in many different licensed products including everything from pens, clocks, peanut butter grinders, and banks. One way that Planter’s tried to appeal to younger customers was by mailing coloring books, free when you sent in Planter’s wrappers.
In 1978, Bob and Judith Walthall started a Mr. Peanut appreciation club called Peanut Pals as a place for collectors to document the vast variety of Mr. Peanut memorabilia. At one time the club had more than 1,000 members, but with the advent of the internet, their membership has dropped. They produce a newsletter, and host collector conventions.
Mr. Peanut’s death is the latest in a long line of gimmicks that brands have used leading up to the Super Bowl. The ad that aired during the Super Bowl, titled "Tribute," showed Mr. Peanut's funeral, attended by fellow advertising mascots Mr. Clean, the Kool-Aid Man and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. In the ad, the tears from the Kool-Aid Man cause a new, younger character to grow from the soil. Baby Nut, a cute baby version of Mr. Peanut was born, wearing a tiny top hat, white gloves and shoes.
Time will tell whether Baby Nut will grow into a character as beloved as Mr. Peanut, or if the move by Planter’s was just plain NUTS!
Linda Gross is the Reference Librarian in the Published Collections Department at Hagley Museum and Library.