Final Essay: Cracker Jack in Historic Advertising - Patriotism in Every Crunch
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
CS341B for Dr. Patricia Molloy at Wilfrid Laurier University
Food advertising can be used to trace the social, cultural and political climate of the United States of America through history. The representational shifts are evident not only in how the products are advertised but alter the product as a form of content as well, for example, family-sized versus individual packaging. Cracker Jack food confection is a popcorn and peanut mixed snack with the sweet taste of molasses created by Frederick and Louis Rueckheim. Invented in the 1890s, it was “first mass-produced and sold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893” (Elliott, 2014, p. 133). The creative brothers were from Germany and immigrated to America as the family wanted to leave the German tension (Chmelik, 2013, in “Business Development”). This product is now over 120 years old and has lasted through two world wars as well as a technological revolution. It has had a strong connection with baseball as a classic snack in the stands and owes some of its popularity to the 1908 song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, which immortalized Cracker Jack’s relationship to the sport (Chmelik, 2013, in “Business Development”). Being known as the first company to ever supply toys and/or mini gifts inside their product boxes, children were excited to find small animals, cars and, unsurprisingly during war time, miniature play weapons (Elliott, 2014, p. 133). Cracker Jack represents the patriotic values of the United States through the promotion of commodity conservation and the white boy’s American Dream while remaining dedicated to the U.S. military in the company’s advertising campaigns. To develop this argument, seven advertisements have been selected from various eras ranging from 1918-2015. Through chronological analysis, these ads will spark an understanding of the socio-political atmosphere of the United States of America, one continually obsessed with patriotism.
The first advertisement seen in Appendix A, was published in 1918 in the Albuquerque Morning Journal (Wikipedia Contributor, n.d.). It features an image of the product packaging, Sailor Jack and Bingo, the dog. Being akin to other advertisements at the time, this ad contains a bulk of text describing the product and convincing the consumer why it is good to buy. It tells the consumer to “save sugar and wheat” in order to support the troops overseas (Wikipedia Contributor, n.d.). This supports the idea of conservation which was extremely popular in war-time propaganda. “Conservation themes abounded, especially in food advertisements. Substituting products in abundant supply for goods needed for the war was often recommended” (Pope, 1980, p. 11). U.S. Food Administration campaigned for the conservation of food in America by everyone from the beginning of production right to the at-home consumer (Ponder, 1995, p. 539).
Cracker Jack was promoted as a nutritious snack that would have been beneficial for both those working in the army and those working the fields or at the factories at home. The government needed to use propaganda to “not only create public support for an army to fight in Europe but also a willingness to accept sacrifices at home” (Ponder, 1995, p. 540). Interestingly, Printers’ Ink (as cited in Pope, 1980) was against the promotion of goods through patriotism, describing that it was in poor taste. However, mourning was not favourable either, meaning it was better to be patriotic in an advertisement’s messaging (Pope, 1980, p. 10). The popularity of food conservation stems from the humanitarian aspects of the action, including helping those less fortunate through volunteerism (Ponder, 1995, p. 540). As a Cracker Jack consumer, you would not only be enjoying a tasty snack but helping the needy, a decidedly honourable deed. Therefore, the advertising companies of general consumer products followed suit and continued the pattern of promoting limited consumption of various commodities and substituting the others (Molloy, 2019). After the start of World War I, there was the hegemonic value to be patriotic. Advertisers and propaganda creators placed guilt on consumers if they were being unpatriotic with their spending choices; a good citizen would keep buying and living in the state of freedom for which the soldiers at war were fighting (Molloy, 2019). Overall, the U.S. government operated under the impression that “food will win the war” (Ponder, 1995, p. 544). This first ad not only identifies the company’s support for conservation, but also directly tells viewers to enlist in the U.S. navy and a free national song book. The proliferation of patriotism through the giveaway of a free song book filled with nationalistic songs directly aligned with the nationalism within the sport of baseball. Each of the entities that Cracker Jack was affiliated with were filled with U.S. patriotic symbolism and messaging.
In the same year as the first examined ad above, 1918, the advertisement listed in Appendix B also was published but at Christmas time. The advertisement features a large image of the brand mascot, Sailor Jack, and his dog, Bingo, standing over a family Christmas gathering. The text of the ad reads “Have a Cracker Jack Christmas! It’s so jolly! So patriotic too; for Cracker Jack is a wonderful treat that saves sugar and wheat” (clotho98, n.d.). This text explicitly indicates a strong support of the U.S. military and again persuades a consumer to be a “good American” in purchasing the product. The ad appears to promote the sailor as a Santa figure carrying multiple boxes as packages for Christmas. This is not the first time that Sailor Jack has multiple boxes in his arms, but due to his stance over the family, he is seemingly responsible for their good cheer. The ad also explicitly reads, “America’s War-Time Food Confection that puts the sweet in Home Sweet Home” (clotho98, n.d.). Cracker Jack directly aligns itself as an American food product and connects itself to the iconic American Dream saying of “Home Sweet Home”, which would be familiar and comforting to American consumers. Both of these 1918 advertisements capitalized on the American fear of being unpatriotic.
In 1940, during the Second World War, the militarization advertising techniques of the Cracker Jack brand were less overt. They also changed their target market after the Great War. In the 1920s, boys were not only able to spend daddy’s money, but were also “managers and earners of their own spending money” (Jacobson, 2004, p. 122). The idea of the child as a consumer was growing in popularity and the boys, in particular, became a target market. On the back of a Batman comic book from 1940, the advertisement in Appendix C was featured in colour print (“Batman”, n.d.). The advertisement shifts from a primarily war-based focus with the parents as being the intended consumer to purchase the product for their family to the children. Being in a superhero comic book, the boy of the family would likely see the advertisement first. As they leave their comic on the coffee table, their sister could see that she could get a dress for her doll by purchasing a Cracker Jack package too. Due to the fact that the comic would be read primarily by the son, the ad for the daughter is much more noticeable from farther away due to its prominence on the back cover. There is one coupon for each child in a nuclear-family. This also promotes the sale of not only one, but two boxes of Cracker Jack in order to send the coupons by mail.
Although the advertisement prioritizes children, there is a coupon for a U.S. military bracelet. This bracelet catches the interest of children, and especially boys, as they want to be a hero, just like Batman. The son is notably an important decision maker for family purchases (Jacobson, 2004, p. 105), and by catering advertisements to the growing boy, a family would be influenced to purchase Cracker Jack boxes. The bracelet allows a boy to choose his preference of military division and envision himself as a patriotic soldier from childhood.
In 1953, Cracker Jack released a print ad for Halloween, as seen in Appendix D. This advertisement is directed at mothers as a family purchaser but would catch the attention of children when they see the colourful Halloween costumes. Children are often excited to help pick out what candy their house gives out and would strive to be the best house on the block. This is the first ad of analysis that does not include military-specific messaging and was produced during the Baby-Boom. Children would have been at the forefront of decisions as there would have been many young kids nearby aged up to approximately seven years old since the end of WWII. This Halloween-themed advertisement showcases a completely white group of children and, of course, there is, “no figure better embodied the promise of consumer salesmanship than the white, middle-class American boy” (Jacobson, 2004, p. 93). The promotion of health benefits and the act of conservation of goods vanish from advertising practice at this time, and in contrast the ad promotes buying boxes for the whole block. The product itself is now conveniently available by the case. This ad also uses made-up advertising language such as the word “crunchy”, which was now common practice (Molloy, 2019). Photos and illustrations now took up the majority of the ad space in 1953 and the company’s gluttonous slogan, “the more you eat - the more you want” is printed larger than in earlier campaigns.
Twenty years later, Cracker Jack took a more nutritious approach once again. In the print ad featured in Appendix E, a consumer is presented with health facts that would coincide with the upcoming workout and health boom of the approaching 1980s. Still in connection with the national sport of Major League Baseball, kids who eat Cracker Jack would be living an active lifestyle playing little league until they could make it to the big stadiums like their heroes, the professional players. The text at the bottom of the advertisement is directed at moms who are concerned for their child’s well-being and notes the absence of artificial ingredients (and the inclusion of a “secret toy surprise inside”) (237, 2019). Fischler argues in her article, “Food habits, social change and the nature/culture dilemma”, that the processing of food used to be fundamental for consumption (1980, p. 946). However, she continues to argue, “processing and industrial purification seem no longer to guarantee symbolic purity” (Fischler, 1980, p. 946). Additives, artificial colours and refined “whiteness” was out of style and wholesome nutrients were at the forefront to building a healthy nation (Fischler, 1980, p.946).
Continuing to look at the ad’s imagery, young white boys would see the main subject of the photo as a representation of themselves: a kid having a break from playing baseball, enjoying their privilege of having snacks and living their best life; it’s an embodiment of the American Dream. The main text can be read in a whiny boy voice as they take the purchase decision making into their own hands. The child is reassuring that the family will be fine and dandy if they eat the product but determined to have the Cracker Jack snack despite their mom’s worrying.
The next advertisement is a commercial broadcast in 1999; a screenshot from the video can be seen in Appendix F. The mother in this commercial can actually be understood as the hero instead of the worrier. She is purchasing a family-sized package for the whole family to enjoy. The commercial uses the typical humorous mega-sized product approach of the late 1990s that was common practice across advertising that could be seen in Gushers and Kool-Aid commercials as well. This is a change from the health-craze of the 1980s and vastly different from the reduce and conserve ideology of the wartime ads. These advertisements are kid-friendly and play on the parents’ desire to please their children. The purchase of each Cracker Jack package is made for the son and his friend, the daughter and the grandchild’s satisfaction. Despite the lack of war, military presence and weaponry, there is still a comedic use of destruction, crashes and explosions within the commercial.
The final advertisement to be analysed was published in a Facebook post on November 11, 2015; it can be seen in Appendix G. This Veteran’s Day post brings society full circle to supporting the veterans who have fought for Americans’ freedom and, arguably, constitutional rights. Many companies do promote supporting those who have dedicated their lives to service in the U.S. military, which can also be seen in Canada for the Canadian armed forces. However, Cracker Jack, which is now owned by Frito-Lay, is specifically connected to raising funds for Carry the Load, an organization in support of the U.S. military. Frito-Lay could have posted a generic post of thanks and remembrance; however, they selected a specific product in their line with a historic connection to this cause. This showcases that despite all the new technology, political changes, social movements and updated cultural practices that militarism remains a component of American ideology.
Although through the early years, Cracker Jack actually used cartoon bears as their mascots and not a sailor, they still maintained an American patriotic outlook as the bears travelled around to see the sights of America and played baseball too (Chmelik, 2013, in “Business Development”). The Cracker Jack brand has always tried to fulfil the ideals of the American Dream and aligned itself with patriotic American nationalism. The theme of American heroes is prevalent across every single advertisement, indicating that the political climate may change, but the patriotic American Dream is continually instilled within society. Whether a war hero, a neighbourhood hero, baseball hero or the everyday hero bringing home the best snacks, Cracker Jack is for heroes and may the American hero crunch on for the sake of the country.
237. (2019). 1977 Cracker Jack snack little league baseball player photo vintage print ad [ebay listing]. https://www.ebay.com/itm/1977-Cracker-Jack-snack-little-league-baseball-player-photo-vintage-print-ad-/362549095070 (Original advertisement published in 1977).
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(Original advertisement published in Saturday Evening Post magazine)
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Jack's Really Really Really Big Bag Commercial [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd8rrjLkC_4&list=PLbKsEa242MstO0Y5rGFQDsxnYSiFPmfgN&index=12
Molloy, P. (2019, January 8). Introduction to Course: Advertising in Historical Perspective. CS 341B, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo.
Ponder, S. (1995). Popular propaganda: The food administration in world war I. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 72(3). 539-550. Retrieved from https://libproxy.wlu.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.wlu.ca/docview/216923003?accountid=15090
Pope, D. (1980). The Advertising Industry and World War I. The Public Historian, 2(3), 4-25.
Wikipedia Contributors. (n.d.). Cracker Jack. Wikipedia. Retrieved April 14, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cracker_Jack (Original advertisement published in Albuquerque Morning Journal).
1918 – Patriotic Food Confection
(Wikipedia Contributors, n.d.)
1918 – A “Cracker Jack” Christmas
1940 – Doll Dresses and U.S. Military Bracelet Coupons
1953 – Halloween Treats
1977 – Don’t Worry Mom
1999 – Really Really Really Big Bag
(Las Vegas Time Machine, 2016)
2015 – Happy Veteran’s Day