I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth…
(Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “Goin’ Back”)
If you were born in the Boomer era (between 1946 and 1964), you grew up with all of the brands in this book. What is most remarkable about these brands is that many of them still exist today. This is no small feat: to be sustainable for more than fifty years, a brand has to evolve as times change and stay relevant to consumers.
The Boomer era was a time when the modern brand came to be, when brands reflected popular culture, and when brand advertising flourished. By the mid-60s, nearly half the population of the United States was under the age of 25, so advertising agencies aggressively targeted the Baby Boomer generation. The Boomer era was also a time when the medium of television revolutionized the way brands were marketed.
Two important ideas set the stage for this book:
1. My definition of “brand” is quite broad. Typically, a brand is a product with a brand name. I think of a brand as not just a product, but any person, place or thing that is widely known and evokes strong emotions. In addition to traditional products, I consider television shows, movies, songs, events and personalities to be brands because of the significant emotional impact they had on the Baby Boomer generation.
2. Everything during the Boomer era, and every Boomer-era brand, was influenced to some extent by television. This magic box brought the world into our living rooms, first in black-and-white and then, amazingly, in color. Television permanently changed media consumption in our country in the 50s and 60s, and it also became the primary gateway for brand advertising. Not surprisingly, brand advertisers used television to directly appeal to children, engage young minds and turn kids into product conduits to influence their parents. Television shows that directly appealed to Boomer kids were, in effect, brands. When we evaluate “Boomer Brands,” they almost always are inter-connected with television. That’s why the first chapter covers television shows in detail.
There are 156 brands in this book spanning fifteen chapters. The chapters represent brand categories. In deference to younger Boomers, and in recognition of important categories such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Revolution,” some brands stretch beyond the 60s into the 1970s.
Within each category is a collection of brands that I designate as “Winners” and “Losers” – in my opinion, the best and worst brands of the Boomer era.
As a retired marketing professional, I viewed all of the brands in this book in the context of marketing, but I’m the first to admit there is likely to be a lot of personal bias in my “Winner” and “Loser” designations. I fully expect some readers to debate my choices, perhaps even heatedly. That would be a good thing, because it means they’re as passionate about brands as I am. Still, I apologize in advance for any winner you think is undeserving and any loser you think got short shrift.
In defining “Winner” and “Loser,” I applied the following broad criteria:
To be designated a “Winner” (look for the “thumbs up”), a brand must be iconic. It has to be authentic and relevant for the time. It has to have great appeal to Boomer kids as they were growing up. It has to have staying power and lasting influence. It has to be a brand that Boomers remember fondly to this day.
To be designated a “Loser” (look for the “thumbs down”), a brand has to be a strategic misfire, a marketing blunder, ahead of or behind its time, a short-lived fad, or a one-hit wonder. It has to be a brand that Boomers may remember – but if they do, it’s probably with a good deal of derision.
For those readers new to this topic, Boomer Brand Winners & Losers is essentially a sequel to my first book, BOOMER BRANDS: Iconic Brands that Shaped Our Childhood. Fans of the first book thanked me for bringing back cherished memories about their favorite childhood brands. Some readers said the book inspired them to have spirited conversations about brands with spouses, siblings, friends, and even co-workers. Others let me know in no uncertain terms that I left out some Boomer-era brands that were meaningful to them. This book is far more comprehensive, including three times as many brands as in the first book. All of the material is new, so if you didn’t read BOOMER BRANDS and you enjoy this book, check out the Appendix for a list of the brands included in the first book.
How to Get the Most Out of Boomer Brand Winners & Losers
Each chapter of this book provides a brief discussion of a brand category, followed by what I hope are engaging stories about “Winners” (thumbs up) and “Losers” (thumbs down). Winners and losers appear one after the other to better highlight the differences. Each Winner and Loser occupies just a single page to make for optimum readability.
The final chapter identifies my selections for the Boomer era’s “Ultimate Winner,” one stellar brand that achieved lasting greatness, and “Ultimate Loser,” one sorry brand that reached the pinnacle of success and then faded away into oblivion.
The Appendix contains a number of fun extras. Here you’ll find links to old TV commercials that relate to the brands in this book, a handy form you can use to fill in your own choices for Boomer Brands you consider “Winners” or “Losers”, and a discussion guide with suggestions for how to use this book in conversations.
You can read this book from start to finish, or you can read chapters or even individual brand stories in any order, based on your particular interests. Chapters are self-contained and the content has been organized to make it easy to browse, move around freely, stop anywhere, and reminisce.
Trademarks are valuable intellectual property, so they are always listed at the end of each chapter.
One of the things I truly appreciate about my fellow Baby Boomers is their thirst for knowledge. If you have an interest in expanded information beyond what you find in the pages of this book, I have included the sources I used for every brand covered.
If you would like free access to a special webpage that includes all of the source links from this book in one convenient reference, simply send your email address to:
In the subject line, type: WL Links. You’ll get a page link via return email. Your email will remain private and will not be shared or sold.
TV shows, movies, products and social movements of the 50s and 60s were a mirror of society when Boomers were growing up. Reminiscing about the brands of the Boomer era is good for the mind and the soul. It helps renew memories of a carefree childhood and happier times.
I hope “goin’ back” to Boomer Brand Winners & Losers brings you lots of wonderful memories, encourages lively conversation, and perhaps even stimulates vigorous debate!
CHAPTER 1: Television (excerpt)
Whether you were born in 1946, 1964 or in between those years, you were part of the “view tube” generation. During our childhood, television first appeared in American homes. Like its predecessor, radio, television was free – with a very big string attached. That string, just like radio, was brand advertising.
Early on, television shows were interrupted by commercials, and many shows were sponsored by advertisers. It was not uncommon for a major advertiser’s name to be a part of the show (“General Electric Theater,” “Texaco Star Theatre”). In addition, the stars of some of these shows shamelessly shilled for products (for example, Dinah Shore famously crooned, “See the USA in Your Chevrolet”).
Television was essentially divided into three time segments: Daytime, Primetime (evenings), and Weekends. Saturday mornings were reserved for children’s programming; Saturday morning television shows included cartoons, filmed adventure series, and sometimes live presentations for children, and brand advertisers targeted Boomer kids directly.
Television shows themselves were really uniquely branded entertainment. Each show had its own timeslot, name, brand platform, distinct typeface, song, and branded characters or stars. The shows used brand merchandising to sell toys, games, and clothes. Television stars appeared in person at promotional events. Cereal, soft drink, snack food and other brands cleverly wove their products into the shows, a practice called “product placement” that started in the Boomer era and is now commonplace in TV shows and movies.
When it came to children’s shows, Boomer kids had their own favorites. We sang along with the theme songs and pestered our parents to buy the brands we saw featured on the shows. Television programs aimed at Boomer kids were sometimes nothing more than vehicles for promoting various brands. Still, a Saturday morning television show was just as emotionally impactful to Boomer kids as the branded products the show advertised.
Daytime shows that appealed to Boomer kids were slotted in weekday mornings, largely aiming at youngsters (“Bozo the Clown,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “Ding Dong School,” “Howdy Doody,” “Romper Room”). In the afternoons, programming targeted adolescents and teens (“American Bandstand.”)
Primetime featured entertaining television shows appropriate for the entire family to watch early in the evening, with more adult-oriented shows typically appearing after 9 PM. Family time in front of the television might have included popular Westerns, situation comedies, quiz shows, or variety shows. TV was truly a Boomer kid’s window to the world.
Winner: Adventures of Superman
1952 - 1958
“Adventures of Superman” was not just a winning television show, it featured a character who is undoubtedly one of the great American heroes of the 20th Century. Superman was first introduced in a 1938 comic book. He was then voiced on a radio show for eleven years before appearing in a feature film that led to the television series. Boomer kids thrilled to the Saturday morning adventure show, starring George Reeves as Superman, which began with those immortal words, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!” Filmed in black-and-white for the first two seasons, the show switched to color for the remaining six seasons. Little did we know that Superman’s bright blue, yellow and red costume in color was really brown, gray and white for black-and-white filming! Kellogg’s sponsored the show, and characters appeared in cereal commercials. Superman’s immense popularity has continued to this day, through comic books, cartoons, movies, and merchandise.
Photo credit: Screen capture of George Reeves as Superman in the U.S. Treasury Department film, “Stamp Day for Superman,” 1954, public domain
Loser: The Pinky Lee Show
1954 - 1956
Pinky Lee was a burlesque comic who brought his brand of slapstick humor and zaniness to a children’s television show. Filmed in front of a live studio audience of both parents and children, “The Pinky Lee Show” began with Pinky, dressed in a checkered jacket, singing and dancing frenetically, after which he would interact with audience members. This was followed by juvenile sketches, as well as what could loosely be termed a variety show, featuring comedians, singers, dancers, and performers, both humans and animals. What happened with the live audience was just as amusing as Lee’s ad-libbed antics. Children sometimes asked inappropriate questions, while mothers participated in contests that were for the most part embarrassing. Lee unashamedly incorporated advertisers’ products into the show. The most memorable moment came during a 1955 episode when Lee clutched his throat and passed out. Kids thought it was part of the show, but poor Pinky had taken ill on stage. The show lasted less than three years.
Photo credit: Photo of Betty Jane Howarth and Pinky Lee from the television show “The Pinky Lee Show,” January 1954, public domain
Winner: Adventures of Rin Tin Tin
1954 - 1959
Here’s a winning combination: A boy and his dog (Rusty and Rin Tin Tin) paired with a Western. The story line featured Rusty, orphaned as the result of an Indian attack, improbably living at Ft. Apache as a “Corporal.” Lt. “Rip” Masters was a kind of surrogate father to Rusty. Rin Tin Tin did all sorts of remarkable things, including fighting bad guys and generally maintaining law and order. The dog who played Rin Tin Tin was a descendant of the original “Rinty,” a famous animal actor who starred in films of the 1930s and 1940s. At one point, he was the highest paid movie star in Hollywood. The television show appeared during a time when Westerns were wildly popular. The five seasons ran in the evenings, but the show was so endearing that reruns were shown on afternoons and Saturday mornings for decades afterwards, through at least the mid-1980s. In addition to the “Rin Tin Tin Club,” the show spawned a wide array of merchandise including, of course, lunch boxes.
Photo credit: Photo of James Brown as “Rip” Masters and Rin Tin Tin from a postcard Brown sent to a fan of the television show, 1955, public domain
Loser: Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion
1955 - 1957
Appropriating the Western TV show formula, this program substituted an Arabian country for the Old West, a camel for a horse, and bad guy Arabs for Western bandits. Buster Crabbe starred in the show as Captain Gallant, who was the guardian of a young orphan boy, played by Crabbe’s real son. (Hmmm – sounds like “Rin Tin Tin,” doesn’t it?) Crabbe was a real life superhero of his time: He was an Olympic medalist swimmer and film star who had the distinction of being the only actor to have played Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon in film serials. The Foreign Legion, a branch of the French army, was romanticized in films, and Legionnaires, as members were called, were popular heroes. Real Legionnaires appeared in the show, which was first filmed in Morocco and later moved to Europe. After its three-year run on NBC, the show was renamed “Foreign Legionnaire” and syndicated, but it never quite matched the exalted status of its Western brethren.
Photo credit: Photo of Buster Crabbe as Captain Gallant from the television show “Captain Gallant and the Foreign Legion,” circa 1955-1957, public
[End of excerpt from Chapter 1]