Today in Tedium: I don’t like to chew gum very often today. It messes with my jaw a bit, and the flavor dissipates far too quickly. But growing up, I was part of the target audience for both chewing gum and bubblegum. I fondly recall several catchy ads for various types of gum on TV and radio. Since February is kind of the unofficial retro ad campaign month in my version of the Tedium expanded universe, we decided to take a bit of a deep dive into chewing gum marketing history. In 2018, we left the light on for you. In 2019, we mixed our peanut butter with chocolate. And last year, we were definitely feeling 7-Up. We even snuck in a presentation from the Kool-Aid Man last summer. In today’s Tedium, we’re unwrapping the interesting convergence of chewing gum, marketing, and pop culture. — David @ Tedium
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The amount of money William Wrigley Jr. had in his pocket when he moved to Chicago at age 30 in 1891. Wrigley used his meager amount of money to help start the business that would eventually usher in a chewing gum empire, in addition to securing a $5,000 loan from an uncle, took on his cousin as a partner, and began selling Wrigley’s Scouring Soap. Keeping careful tabs on his business venture, Wrigley would prove to be a savvy businessman who had a keen eye for knowing how to successfully sell his products. Not bad for a guy who started out with the equivalent of $919.85 in 2021 dollars.
William Wrigley Jr. had a natural gift for marketing
William Wrigley Jr. probably never imagined chewing gum would be the thing that helped him build his fortune. Though he was born in Philadelphia, he moved to Chicago to start selling soap and baking soda. Part of Wrigley’s marketing involved providing something of extra value with each purchase. It began with giving away baking soda with each soap purchase. But eventually, the baking soda became more popular than the soap, and Wrigley started giving away a new premium item as a freebie: chewing gum.
He introduced Juicy Fruit in 1893, with Spearmint gum following that same year. Wrigley designed a logo for Spearmint and pushed it so much, it eventually became successful for his company. Doublemint gum made its debut in 1914, featuring double flavor strength, double wrapping, and double the value of other gum brands. Freedent, Orbit, Extra, and Hubba Bubba came along much later.
Wrigley spent significant amounts of money each year on advertising and often combined gum offers with other items. During a financial downturn in 1907, he even mortgaged everything he owned to pay for advertising time (it worked out quite well for him). Direct marketing was a significant part of Wrigley’s success as well. In 1915, Wrigley mailed 1.5 million free samples of their gum to Americans, playing a significant role in one of the first direct marketing campaigns in history. Wrigley also came up with the most ingenious way to sell gum effectively: placing it by the cash register or counter to make it an impulse purchase.
Ultimately, Wrigley believed in his products and felt quality to be an essential factor even in something as small as a stick of gum. To that end, during World War II, the company briefly stopped selling Juicy Fruit and Doublemint at the retail level due to a shortage of quality ingredients. Wrigley still produced them but provided the gum only to the armed forces fighting in the war. They continued to manufacture gum for civilians with lower quality ingredients, sold under the Orbit brand, using their “remember this wrapper” ad campaign to assure consumers their favorite flavors would be back again soon.
Early Wrigley ads had a graphically spectacular, artistic feel to them, containing straightforward ad copy highlighting each type of gum’s flavors and uses. Later, Wrigley’s branched out to radio (and eventually television) to create some of the most memorable campaigns of the 20th century, like the Doublemint Twins, various takes on making Juicy Fruit appeal to teenagers, and some interesting western themes for Big Red.
“Juicy fruit, it’s gonna move ya!”
“Double your pleasure, double your fun, with Doublemint gum.”
“Long-lasting. Fresh breath.”
They’ve essentially entered the pop culture lexicon at this point—and they all came from the same company to advertise chewing gum. What else could one expect from the company of a man whose motto was, “tell them quick, and tell them often?”
The year Lonnie Donegan released his hit novelty song, “Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?” A rewrite of an original song by the Happiness Boys called, “Does your spearmint lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight,” the song is a delightfully silly romp about chewing gum losing its flavor. At the same time, it hangs on someone’s bedpost. It may have even helped inspire The Beatles’ early work, as the legendary band started as a skiffle group called The Quarrymen. Skiffle—a blues and jazz-tinged form of folk music played on acoustic guitars, banjos, and improvised instruments (like washboards)—enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 1950s. Donegan’s song was probably the height of music about chewing gum, at least until Wrigley came along with some of the most memorable gum music (not to be confused with the bubblegum music genre) in advertising history.
Staying close a little longer with Big Red
Wrigley introduced its popular cinnamon-flavored chewing gum, Big Red, in 1975 with a slightly different ad campaign. The early Big Red ads had a country-western flair to them, right down to cowboys riding off into the sunset against a twang soundtrack. The country jingle—performed by country singer Jack Barlow—implored listeners to make Big Red their brand. A few years later, Wrigley teamed up with Chicago-based advertising agency BBDO to create their most iconic ad campaign yet: Big Red’s “Kiss a little longer” campaign. Each one begins with a narrator proclaiming, “no little cinnamon gum freshens breath longer than Big Red.” What follows is typically a montage of happy couples enjoying each other’s company in various social situations. With a catchy, fluffy jingle and a musically interesting refrain, it’s no wonder the campaign was so popular.
It doesn’t hurt that Big Red is the best gum ever.
For some bizarre reason (ostensibly to appeal to a younger generation), Wrigley’s decided to take Big Red’s advertising in a different direction with a cool guy named Clyde in a series of ads that started the year 2000. Instead of your fresh breath going on and on while you chew it, the gum now “looks good on you.” It’s an interesting change, but it doesn’t stand up as well as the classic, catchy campaign that came before. I still have the “kiss a little longer” jingle from those late 1980s Big Red commercials rolling around in my head 35 years later.
The popularity of Wrigley’s classic jingles certainly hasn’t waned much in the ensuing years. In 2008, several famous artists came together to update Wrigley’s three most popular jingles—for Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, and Big Red— for the 21st century. According to Rolling Stone, three various artists tackled the songs in unique ways. Chris Brown did an entirely new song featuring the chorus from the Double mint jingle. Ne-Yo took a straightforward approach by adding harmonies to the Big Red jingle. Julianne Hough made a country version of the Juicy Fruit, “the taste is gonna move ya” commercial.
Despite its ups and downs, Wrigley’s chewing gum ads brought plenty of fun and nostalgia to the modern world. Its impact on pop culture—Wrigley’s classic commercials will undoubtedly continue to find a rapt audience online—is interesting as well.
Futurama parodied these classic gum ads in the episode “War is the H-Word,” where main characters Fry and Bender’s desire to purchase ham-flavored gum at a discount prompts them to sign up for the army. As they browse the rack, they come across several science-fiction-based parodies of Wrigley gum products like “Hubble Bubble” and “Liquid Nitrogum.” They eventually settle on a package of “Big Pink.”
“Big Pink: it’s the only gum with the breath-freshening power of ham,” says Fry while Bender remarks, “And it pinkens your teeth while you chew!”
As it turns out, the ham gum was all bones. Big Red had a hilarious NSFW moment in the film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and more recently, the cinnamon gum appeared in an episode of Disney’s Wandavision, albeit in the wrong period.
“There’s really nothing that can go wrong with something like the Wrigley or Mars brand. It’s literally true that they’ve faced the test of time over decades and decades and decades and people use more and more of their products every day.”
— Warren Buffett, in an interview with The Guardian from 2008. Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway provided $4.4 billion in subordinated debt to help fund the Mars Company’s $23 billion purchase of Wrigley earlier that year. In doing so, Buffett became a minority shareholder in Wrigley. Per the interview, Mars teamed up with Buffett because the Wrigley company wanted to ensure the company would go to someone they could trust and ensure the check would clear.
Tedium’s Favorite Non-Wrigley Gum Ads of All-Time
Watching or listening to gum ads from the 80s and 90s is almost like taking a masterclass in successful advertising taglines and slogans. Readers who grew up in the 80s and 90s can probably imagine any of these commercials by simply reading each of the sayings aloud. There’s a certain nostalgia to hearing or seeing these ads, but none of them make me want to go out and buy a stick of gum. That doesn’t make them any less fun, but your mileage may vary. Here goes:
Brush your breath with Dentyne, commercial #3. Dentyne has been around a long time, but their advertising started getting creative around the late 1970s/early 1980s. This 1981 spot is one of the funniest gum commercials in existence. One of several in a series of increasingly ridiculous ads for the gum, this spot begins with an egregious voice singing about taking someone up to lover’s lane only to have them run away when they caught a whiff of the person’s breath. It continues similarly before concluding. All of the “Brush your breath with Dentyne” spots follow a similar pattern to varying degrees of hilarity.
Dentyne commercials focused heavily on the product’s breath-freshening qualities, and while I enjoyed them, they weren’t popular with everyone. Per a 1978 Chronicle Review report reprinted in the book Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture: Advertising’s Impact on American Character, the ad campaign was one of several commercials the author found dull, unimaginative, crude, and obnoxious. Well, you can’t win them all.
Trident Layers, “Paid in Gum.” Trident marketed itself as a dentist-recommended gum in the 1970s with their slogan, “Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.” It was one of several chewing gums that touted its health benefits and became recognized by the American Dental Association for its ability to help prevent cavities when chewed for 20 minutes after eating (but only if it’s sugarless). The brand later maintained the focus on chewing gum to prevent cavities. Still, it shifted its messaging to trendier campaigns and shortened taglines like, “Flavor for your taste without sugar for your teeth.”
It may not have the same ring to it as their 1990s commercials, “Who wants Trident? I do! I do!” and “When you can’t brush, chew.” But this ridiculous commercial for Trident Layers gum sees the brand take off to new comedic heights. Airing around 2010, it features a series of various professionals desiring to get paid in gum. In the end, a utility worker laments the fact that no one ever pays him with gum. Of course, I would never accept gum as a substitute for a paycheck. Reese’s cups, on the other hand, might be acceptable under certain circumstances.
Bubblicious Bubblegum, “Cosmically Juicy.” “Infinitely soft, cosmically juicy. Flavor from another world (available on Earth)”
Listeners of a certain age may fondly recall the “ultimate bubble” campaign by Bubbleicious, where they introduced various new flavors like watermelon and pineapple. But do you remember that time they channeled the Eurythmics and Kraftwerk to create a trippy, insane version of “The Ultimate Bubble” spot? This 1984 spot has everything from space imagery to cartoonish depictions of the bubble gum, all to a shockingly excellent soundtrack. There are 28 flavors of Bubblicious bubble gum as of 2021, but the ultimate bubble campaign was probably the peak of the brand’s advertising. Bubblicious has a fun connection to “Weird Al” Yankovic, too: as he told audiences during his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-advised Vanity Tour, he had a day job at Westwood One radio before his career took off. As part of the job, he called Westwood One affiliates up and asked them if they played their Bubblicious ads. Dog Eat Dog indeed.
The number of U.S. consumers who chewed some type of gum in 2020, per the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey. In that same study, a whopping 169 million respondents said they didn’t chew gum at all in 2020. The study results align with a downward trend in chewing gum interest over the past decade. Interest in chewing gum is in a general decline among consumers. (Or it never existed in the first place, for some. — Ed.)
Chewing gum sales aren’t quite what they once were. Although gum was once quite popular and ubiquitous, sales began declining over time, starting with the increased popularity of mints (like Altoids in the late 1990s. In a 2014 report, the AP reported chewing gum sales fell eleven percent between 2010 and 2014, forcing marketers to rethink their marketing strategies for modern consumers. Over the next few years, sales were expected to decline despite occasional surges, as Chicago-based research firm Mintel reported in 2015.
There are likely several reasons behind the decline, but manufacturers can’t pinpoint a single cause. It could be the consumer’s unwillingness to pay $2 for a pack of gum. It is undoubtedly related to the change in the way people shop. Perhaps the decline can be attributed to the severe aversion some people feel toward the substance.
Some of the most prominent companies have their theories. Wrigley blamed the increase in self-checkouts for some of their lackluster throughout 2016. But in 2019, the chewing gum industry saw some of its best gains in years. That is until COVID-19 gummed up the works due to a combination of social distancing and decreased store visits.
Now, a new industry report points to a bit of a rebound for chewing gum by 2024, but whether the sticky confection makes a comeback post-pandemic remains to be seen. If it does, it’ll likely be sugar-free, and hopefully, the commercials will be just as much fun as the classic we know and love.
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