Character of the Week: Jolly Green Giant

Retro Staff 5 Comments

Jolly Green Giant-Green Giant IconBorn in 1925, the Jolly Green Giant represents The Minnesota Valley Canning Company.  That year, the company introduced to a new variety of pea in Europe.  These peas were much larger than the ones grown in America, and were very flavorful.  The canning company applied for a trademark for the new pea, which was to be called the “Green Giant.”  It was during this process that the Green Giant character was created.

The first Green Giant was inspired by the book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  His first advertising appearance was in 1928, and he looked like a cave man carrying a very large pea pod.  He wore a bearskin, did not look friendly, and wasn’t even green!

The Green Giant went through more changes, and the next year he appeared as a completely green man wearing a tunic made of leaves.  The Giant continued to evolve into a friendlier version, but it was not until 1935 that he developed his trademark appearance.  This was the year that Leo Burnett, a young advertiser, was hired to make the Giant more appealing to the public.  Burnett gave the Giant a smile and a friendly demeanor to preside over the Jolly Green Giant Valley.  The Green Giant character became so popular that the Minnesota Canning Company changed its name to Green Giant Company in 1950.

Timeline of the Green Giant

Timeline of the Green Giant (source: Green Giant)

It was in the early ’50s that the Green Giant made his television debut and it was not an easy transition.  Both in animation and live forms, the Giant did not come off as the friendly protector he was supposed to be.  In fact, he looked a little scary.  This problem was solved by creating a set with a tiny valley for the man-sized Giant to preside over.  Also, the camera did not film close-ups.  We saw the Giant off in the distance, protecting the valley and its crops.  He used the phrase, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” and became known as the Jolly Green Giant.

In 1961, the Green Giant Company introduced frozen vegetables.  The Jolly Green Giant got a red scarf to keep him warm from the freezing winds, and his arms were crossed to help with any shivering. The Giant’s last overhaul was in 1976.

Sprout and the Green Giant

The Green Giant and Sprout (source: Green Giant)

In 1973 the Sprout character was introduced as an apprentice to the Green Giant. He helps the Giant tend to the valley and was created to represent the voice of the consumer. In advertising, he is curious, enthusiastic and well-taught by the Giant.

Throughout the years, the Giant has always been popular with the public, and merchandise has been available since the beginning of his career.  There is even a 55-foot fiberglass statue of the Jolly Green Giant, erected in 1979, presiding over his birthplace in Blue Earth, Minnesota!

The Jolly Green Giant is one of the most recognized advertising icons of all time.  Advertising Age magazine ranked him as the third most recognizable advertising character of the 20th century, behind only Ronald McDonald and the Marlboro Man.  It looks like he will be presiding over the Jolly Green Giant Valley for years to come.

Take a look at this early-1960s Green Giant commercial. It feature live action (with the giant still in the distance), animation and a Green Giant doll.


Last updated: Feb 28, 2009
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: advertising, food, marketing, Retro Characters