In the early days of television, animation was the medium of
choice to sell a product to the masses. Automobiles, cigarettes, patent
medicines and even alcoholic beverages were presented to the TV viewing public
via the animated commercial. Animation is relatively inexpensive to produce and
when done cleverly, very memorable. One of the most clever and memorable
animated commercials created for Detroit TV was The Faygo Kid, created to sell
Faygo soda pop. From the mid 1950s thru the early 1970s The Faygo Kid guarded
the Wells Faygo Express, preventing Black Bart from pilfering the stagecoach’s
precious cargo; a case of Faygo Root Beer.
The history of Faygo goes back to 1907, when Perry and Ben Feigenson rented a
building on Winder street in the Eastern Market area of Detroit to manufacture
and bottle soft drinks. Their original flavors, Strawberry, Fruit Punch and
Grape were based on cake frosting recipes the brothers perfected as bakers in
their native Poland. A few years later Lithiated Lemon, Rock & Rye and
Sassafras were introduced to the growing stable of flavors. In 1921 the
Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works name was shortened to Faygo. Sassafras Soda
was reformulated in the 1940s and renamed Root Beer.
In 1954 the W.B. Doner Advertising Agency was hired to create a TV commercial
for Faygo Old Fashioned Root Beer. Doner enlisted the help of Storyboard, an
independent studio headed by former Disney animator John
Hubley. A political
activist, Hubley was forced to leave his position as creative vice president of
UPA Animation Studios in 1952 when he refused to appear before the House
Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1953 the blacklisted animator found both
financial and creative freedom with Storyboard, where he worked in relative
anonymity with his wife Faith, producing TV commercials.
The Faygo Kid spot was budgeted at $20,000, more than twice the amount of the
average animated commercial of the era. The original ad was shot in black and
white on 16mm film, clocking in at 72 seconds. In the late 1950s when color
programming became more widespread, the commercial was dyed a sepia tone and
edited down to 60 seconds.
The half-pint cowboy with the ten-gallon hat soon became as popular as the
programs he was promoting. The Faygo Kid was a perfect match for such local
Detroit western themed children’s shows as Sagebrush Shorty and Cowboy Colt.
Faygo was a regular sponsor of the Auntie Dee program and even Soupy Sales was
known to exclaim on more than one occasion that “George Washington may have been
the father of our country, but Faygo is the pop!”
In the late 1950s John Hubley created more animated spots for Faygo. Neither
was as successful as The Kid, but Hubley will go down in TV history as the
creator of pop icon Marky Maypo, the finicky two year old who exclaimed, “I
want my Maypo!” The success of Storyboard’s commercials gave John and Faith
Hubley the economic freedom to create a series of highly stylized animated
theatrical short subjects utilizing the musical talents of such Jazz greats as
Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Quincy Jones.
The Kid went into semi-retirement in 1972. He made a comeback in 1981 when
Doner pulled the original commercial out of mothballs and presented it to a new
generation of Faygo fans in its original black and white. In 1997 Faygo aired a
nostalgic compilation of their commercials, featuring a short clip of The Kid,
in celebration of their 90th anniversary.
In 1987 Faygo Beverages was sold to the National Beverage Corporation. Faygo
still manufactures more than 40 flavors of soda pop from their state of the art
bottling plant near downtown Detroit. The current popularity of Faygo with
teenagers might be attributed in part to the Horrorcore rap group Insane Clown
Posse, who have chosen Faygo as their beverage of choice, often singing about it
at their concerts while dousing concert goers with Faygo pop.
The Faygo Kid is fondly remembered
more than fifty
years after he first flickered on Detroit TV screens. Hopefully, once again Black
Bart will get the chance to taunt his nemesis The Faygo Kid, so a new generation of kids can yell,
“Which way did he go? Which way did he go? He went for Fayyyyyy-go!”
HERE to see the original Faygo Kid commercial from 1954.