Ads From The 1800s

_“Oats have arrived![ …] A race of capable millers and inventors appear![ …] There are vast resources! Startling New Methods! It is the dawn of Big Business in the world's strongest nation! And the Quaker Mill at Ravenna, by reason of a priceless birthright, has a star role in The Oatmeal Epic.”

- Richard Ellsworth Day, Breakfast Table Autocrat (1946)
Quaker Oats was the first major national cereal corporation (first registered trademark in 1877).  Quaker introduced us to such things as the world's first cereal box prizes (and kids have been emptying entire boxes ever since) and the iconic Cap'n Crunch cereal.  But what seems to be even more noteworthy about the company was their persistent success in creating a powerful brand that lasted well over a century. 

Quaker Oats began as a conglomeration of independently owned and operated mills throughout the Midwest.  Many of these millers were of German and Scottish descent - the oldest of which was Ferdinand Schumacher (1822-1908), a German immigrant whose Jumbo mill in Akron, Ohio was the nation's largest since its founding in 1850 [Justus von Liebig, Familiar Letters on Chemistry and Its Relation to Commerce, Physiology and Agriculture, trans. John Gardner (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1843) 95].  Some of Schumacher's rivals, led by Harry Parsons Crowell, formed a cohort of sorts (which became the Quaker company) in order to combat Schumacher's stronghold on the market.  After a mill fire in 1886, Schumacher, himself, also joined the Quaker group. 

__[ Quaker advertisement (Saturday Evening Post, Sept. 25, 1880). The Post's first full-page, two-color ad featured a Quaker health appeal. ]

Crowell sought to separate the group's oats from the commodity crops that grocers scooped out of bulk barrels.  He had the foresight and intelligence to understand that if the Quaker group was going to avoid the "commodity hell" cycle in which grain producers lived and died with the next crop, they would need to market their product directly to consumers, emphasizing its quality and purity. 

Juliann Sivulka, an author on American advertising, credits the company's eminence to two primary factors, which changed oats from an agricultural commodity into a powerful brand. "First, Crowell focused on turning oats from a bulk good into a packaged one, removing worries about contamination and creating 'a more desirable product by packaging them in a cardboard box printed with the picture of the Quaker man and a recipe.Second, and most crucial, was the way this novel packaged food product was promoted. Crowell left no avenue unexplored in his quest to sell more oats:
'[T]he pioneering cereal carried its message of health through a variety of forms: newspapers, magazines, streetcar signs, billboards, booklets, samples, cooking demonstrations, store displays, premiums inside the carton, calendars, cookbooks, and picture cards. Within a few years, the Quaker Oats trademark character became familiar nationally."

According to Thomas Hine, in his book, The Total Package: The Secret History and Hidden Meanings of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and Other Persuasive Containers, Crowell's ability to "add value" through good branding resulted in Quaker being (perhaps) "the most promoted product ever at the turn of the 20th century."  Arthur F. Marquette, author of Brands, Trademarks and Good Will: The Story of the Quaker Oats Company, claims that “Henry Crowell was one of the strongest forces in the creation of modern advertising.”  Crowell's career, which lasted from the 1880s to the 1940s, included many creative campaigns which greatly influenced industry norms, as well as consumer eating habits.
_[ Quaker advertisement (Good Housekeeping, Nov. 1926). Expert and lay testimony of oats’ taste, health, and convenience. ]

Kellogg and General Mills eventually pushed Quaker to third place (by the mid-20th century), because they created diversified their product lines, and created sugar-filled, ready-to-eat cereals and the infamous, Pop-Tarts.  Quaker seemed a bit lost in general, investing in products like dog foods, industrial chemicals, and Fisher-Price toys during this time.  Quaker was rapidly losing their identity by the 1980s, and members of the company claimed that "Quaker could not attract the attention of American consumers" [Christie L. Nordhielm, Quaker Oats's Oatmeal Division (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Kellogg School of Management, 2006) 6].

Quaker continued to buy and sell off different brands and entities throughout the late 1900s, including Snapple, Pinnacle Foods, etc.  In August 2001, Quaker was bought out by Pepsico, mainly because Pepsi wanted to add Gatorade to their beverage line-up.  This merger created the fourth-largest consumer goods company in the world.  Pepsico has now taken over all advertising, and Crowell's vision seems to be a thing of the past.  Some would say that the hay-day of oats in long gone, and its now an era of sugary beverages and snack foods.  However, you can still catch a glimpse of a modern-day Quaker advertisement here and there, and most of us will not quickly forget the iconic Quaker man who makes his home on a cardboard container of oats.
_[ Quaker advertisement (Brand Week, Mar. 9, 2009) Quaker's “Go Humans Go” Campaign promoted the oat as “a super grain that powers your day, [ …] knowing you did something good.” ]

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