There are quite a few brand mascots out there that have defined the landscape of consumer products. Toucan Sam has been convincing people to buy Froot Loops for years. Colonel Sanders has successfully safeguarded his secret blend of KFC herbs and spices for his entire career. The Jolly Green Giant was the only reason my parents ever got me to eat canned peas. But, even with so many memorable mascots out there, few of these characters were quite as iconic as the Pillsbury Doughboy.
We all remember the Pillsbury commercials with that little doughy man who made people smile by providing them with croissants, cinnamon buns, and other easy-to-make baked goods. The ads would always inevitably end with a giant human hand poking the Pillsbury Doughboy in his little potbelly, causing him to giggle. It kind of seemed like fat-shaming, but he didn’t seem to mind, and so neither did we. For most of us, the Pillsbury Doughboy was like another member of the family who came around on Thanksgiving or on a random Sunday morning.
But how well do you really know the Pillsbury Doughboy? Did you ever bother to ask him about his past? Did you ever ask questions about his family? Do you even know his real name? It might surprise you to know that there is a whole lot more to know about the Pillsbury Doughboy than those simple and adorable commercials might lead you to believe. Let’s look at a few facts that you might not know about the Pillsbury Doughboy so that we can all feel a little closer to one of our favorite iconic characters.
His Name Isn’t “Pillsbury Doughboy”
That’s right. “Pillsbury Doughboy” isn’t actually his name, but more like a job description. The Pillsbury Doughboy’s actual name (which would be on his birth certificate if dough-people had birth certificates) is Poppin’ Fresh. If your mind is absolutely blown by that, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
The Poppin’ Fresh character was originally created by Rudy Perz, a copywriter for the advertising agency Leo Burnett. Tasked with creating a new advertising campaign for Pillsbury products, Perz imagined an animated doughboy popping out of a can of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls accompanied by the slogan “Say Hello to Poppin’ Fresh Dough”. And thus, the doughboy was deemed Poppin Fresh.
Rudy Perz and his colleagues at Leo Burnett tossed around the idea of calling the doughboy “Jonathan Pillsbury,” an idea that I think we can all be happy got trashed soon after. Instead, they decided to go with Poppin’ Fresh. In his first appearance in a 1965 television ad, the doughboy popped out of a can and said the words, “I’m Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy!” Since then, the name Poppin’ Fresh has rarely been heard, which is probably why almost no one knows that that’s actually his name.
He Has a Family
If you were worried that the Pillsbury Doughboy might be lonely considering he’s the only dough-human that most of us have ever heard of, worry no more. In 1972, Poppin’ Fresh was given a family. Pillsbury began selling doll sets that included Poppie Fresh (the Pillsbury Doughboy’s wife, girlfriend, or sister, no one really knows), Granmommer and Granpopper (his grandparents), Popper and Bun-Bun (a son and a daughter), Flapjack and Biscuit (a family dog and cat), and Uncle Rollie.
The vinyl dolls, created by Carol H. Williams, gave Pillsbury fanatics the opportunity to bring this lovable family of dough people into their own homes. Poppie Fresh was the only member to appear alongside the Pillsbury Doughboy on television; however, unlike Poppin’ Fresh, Poppie Fresh was not allowed to be poked in the stomach. The team at Leo Burnett advertising agency didn’t approve of a large, masculine hand poking little Poppie in the belly. They thought that would be too creepy, and I would tend to agree.
Today, most of the Pillsbury dolls are held in a collection at General Mills, and they’re almost impossible to get your hands on. But who knows? Maybe Pillsbury will bring back the Fresh family in a future advertising campaign and then release a new set of dolls that’s available to the public.
He Once Fought My Dough Girl
As cute and cuddly as the Pillsbury Doughboy may appear, he can apparently get quite nasty when it comes to trademark law. Back in 2010, a small cookie bakery called My Dough Girl in Salt Lake City received a cease-and-desist notice from General Mills instructing them to change the name of their business. The complaint was that the name of the business diminished the trademark value associated with the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Tami Cromar, the entrepreneur who started the business by cashing in her IRA, decided that it would be better to just give in and change the name rather than get into a legal battle with General Mills, a multi-billion-dollar corporation and one of the largest food companies in the world. While it seems a little ruthless that General Mills would go after such a small business, and indeed Tami Cromar claimed that she did not have the Pillsbury Doughboy in mind when she chose the name My Dough Girl, it was probably in her best interest not to go toe-to-toe with the General Mills legal team. I guess the Pillsbury Doughboy can pack quite a punch.
He Has a Lot of Friends
While you may have only ever seen the Pillsbury Doughboy in commercials for Pillsbury products, he’s actually appeared in a bunch of commercials for other brands alongside some other brand mascots and famous figures.
He was once in a commercial with Maureen McCormick in which the two of them were baking cookies and singing together. McCormick would go on to play Marcia Brady in the American sitcom The Brady Bunch. At the time of the commercial, McCormick was only 6 years old.
There was also a commercial for Mastercard that recently aired that featured the Pillsbury Doughboy with some other prominent brand mascots including the Jolly Green Giant, Count Chocula, Mr. Peanut, the Morton Salt Girl, Chef Boyardee, the Vlasic stork, and several others. It seems like although these icons may represent different companies, they’re still happy to sit down and enjoy a meal together. The Morton Salt Girl even pokes the Pillsbury Doughboy in the stomach!
In another one of his famous cameo appearances, the Pillsbury Doughboy was featured in a GEICO commercial in which he gets a pat-down at the airport on his way to a baking convention. Of course, when they pat him on the stomach, he can’t help but let out his signature chuckle.
He’s 55 Years Old
Although the Pillsbury Doughboy still looks as youthful as he ever has, he’s getting into mid-life crisis territory. On November 7th, 2020, he turned 55 years old. Don’t be surprised if you see the Pillsbury Doughboy getting his first tattoo or rolling around in a red Corvette, that’s just what happens with men of his age.
With that being said, I think we can expect the Pillsbury Doughboy to keep his current job for the foreseeable future. He’s become the face of Pillsbury and one of the most recognizable characters in modern media. He’s a main feature at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, he can be seen in nearly every supermarket in the United States, and he’s earned a place in all of our hearts. It’s going to be a while before he’s ready to pass the torch to one of his two children.