Icons From Advertising: Tony the Tiger

The History of Kelloggs' Tony the Tiger

Tony The Tiger
••• Tony The Tiger. Getty Images

“They’re Grrrrreat!"

That one phrase - just two simple words uttered with such gusto - instantly conjures an image in the minds of most consumers. A big, cartoonish tiger, his thumb up, happy to let you know about the product he endorses; a cereal you know well.

In the United States, they’re called Frosted Flakes. In other parts if the world, (such as Great Britain) they’re known as Frosties.

Whatever you know them as, you know the mascot even better.

He is, or course, Tony the Tiger; and he’s still gracing that box of Kellogg’s cereal more than 60 years after he made his debut in 1951.

The Creation of Tony the Tiger

It all started at US advertising agency Leo Burnett back in 1951.

The agency had decided upon a strategy that would put a character on the front of the cereal box (at that time called Sugar Frosted Flakes). This was (and is to this day) a popular way to get people interested in the cereal boxes on the store shelves.

Then the agency decided to introduce the public to four different characters; the idea being that the most popular would eventually grace the box of Sugar Frosted Flakes permanently. Eugene Kokley, an Art Director and graphic artist in Leo Burnett’s creative department, sketched Tony the Tiger, and Martin Provensen created the finished art).

Tony the Tiger was named after Raymond Anthony Wells, an ad man at Leo Burnett, and competed against three other animals:

  • Newt the Gnu
  • Elmo the Elephant
  • Katy the Kangaroo.

The latter seemed to have a natural connection; the sugary cereal putting a bounce in your step to start the day. But, that was not a deal breaker.

Within a year, the public had made its choice. Tony the Tiger had won the competition convincingly, and the other three were put out to pasture.

From that point on, Tony the Tiger grew to become one of the world’s most beloved icons.

The “They’re Grrrrreat!” Slogan

Every great ad campaign in the fifties lived on television, usually with the help of a jingle or catchphrase. “They’re Grrrrreat” was the catchphrase chosen (written by copywriter John E. Matthews), but the tiger needed a voice – something memorable and inviting.

The job went to Dallas McKennon, but he didn’t last too long. It wasn’t the voice Leo Burnett and Kellogg’s were looking for, so they began the search again and chose Thurl Ravenscroft.

Thurl’s bassy but friendly growl was an immediate hit. It brought Tony to life, and made his popularity grow and grow. No longer was Tony the Tiger a simple cereal box icon…he was a champion of positivity. And it was such a popular choice that Thurl stayed as the voice of Tony until he passed away in 2005.

Other Slogans Used Over The Years

Since its introduction, “They’re Grrrrreat!” has had many incarnations, and was occasionally replaced. But, like any truly popular catchphrase or tagline, it just kept coming back. The list includes:

  • They're more than good, They're great!
  • They're gonna taste great!
  • Gr-r-reat 'till it's gone! (Tony's Cinnamon Krunchers)
  • Bring out the tiger in you! (1980s)
  • The taste adults have grown to love. (1980s - 1990s)
  • Hey Tony
  • Gr-r-reat for growth! (Whole Grain Tiger Power)
  • Earn your stripes!
  • Never let the tiger catch you!
  • Put a tiger on your team!
  • Pass it on!
  • It's Gr-r-reat!
  • Super-de-duper!
  • A Gr-r-reat Taste

Tony Through The Ages

By the end of the fifties, Tony the Tiger was as recognizable as TV characters like Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss. In fact, those Hanna-Barbera favorites actually appeared on the Sugar Frosted Flakes box alongside Tony.

As the years went on, Tony became more cultivated. The ad agency gave him a family (Mama Tony had a somewhat Italian-American identity) and he became such a strong part of pop culture that he was named “Tiger Of The Year.”

All the while, this helped to boost sales of the sugary breakfast cereal.

Tony even had a son, Tony Jr., who was plastered on the boxes of Frosted Rice (also called Ricicles).