The Esso Tiger

Retro Staff 7 Comments
Esso Tiger Restored Statue

Restored statue of the Esso Tiger

The Esso Tiger first appeared as a mascot around the turn of the 20th century in Norway.  European divisions of Esso continued to use the Tiger to promote their gasoline products until the advent of war.  World War II brought rationing of gasoline to the world market, and advertising for petrol was stopped.

After the World War II rationing period, the Esso Tiger made its US debut.  The Tiger was used to make Esso stand out against the other competing petrol companies.  At this time a young copywriter named Emery Smith came up with the slogan “Put a tiger in your tank,” which would begin a very successful advertising campaign.

At first, the cartoon Tiger was cute and amiable, and resembled Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.  In 1964, Humble Oil, a division of Esso, changed his appearance to be more ferocious and energetic in order to convey the power of the gasoline products.

The Tiger caught the public’s eye and one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history was born.  Tiger merchandise appeared – one of the most popular being a tiger’s tail that could be fixed to the trunk of a car.  It came with a bumper sticker stating the slogan, “Put a tiger in your tank.”  Some 2,500,000 tails were sold and Time magazine proclaimed 1964 as “The Year of the Tiger along Madison Avenue.”

Due to the success of the American campaign, the company’s South American, European, and Far East divisions along with Australia adopted the Tiger and his slogan.

Leading up to the oil crisis of the 1970s, less advertising took place.  The Tiger was retired, only to be recalled into service in 1972 when Esso changed its name to Exxon.  At this point, the Tiger looked the same, but the slogan was “We’re changing our name, but not our stripes.”

In the 1980s, a live-action tiger was used, filmed by expert cameramen.  Ever since, the Exxon Tiger has remained the same, racing up mountains and along beaches, portraying the energy and power of Exxon (now ExxonMobil) products.

Do you remember the “Put a tiger in your tank” campaign? Have you any of the vintage Esso Tiger merchandise? Please, share…

Last updated: Feb 18, 2009
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: gas, Retro Characters