Not a lot of people can say that they’ve met the Pillsbury Doughboy. Oh sure, there are some good one-liners about meeting up with him by the dairy case at the grocery store, extending a hand and asking “want to join us for dinner?” But I’m talking for real.
In the late-1980’s, I worked at a recording studio on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I helped schedule recording sessions booked by local as well as national advertising agencies which had offices in the Windy City. It was a great job.
We were a small studio space with maybe 20 employees with two recording studios and one post-production studio. We were too small to attract the music business; the bulk of booked time was for voice-over work for our clients’ radio and television ads.
As I was working on the large drafting table one morning, musing over the recording session schedule (this was before computers) someone walked in. My back was to the door so I turned around to find a man standing there. He was short, a bit overweight, and had warm eyes and a huge smile.
“Hi. I’m JoBe” he announced casually. His natural voice was not that far off from a cartoon character.
“I didn’t see anyone up front. Where am I recording today?” he asked.
I hadn’t met JoBe, but it sure didn’t take long to place him. “Oh, you must be here for Pillsbury with Leo Burnett” and he nodded accordingly.
“You’re in studio one today. Can I get you a coffee or water or something?” I asked but he shook his head, thanking me and rolled on out.
“JoBe” is JoBe Cerny. He’s a Chicago actor who had small roles in movies (he was the tailor in My Best Friend’s Wedding) but is best known for being the always silent Cheer Detergent man as well as his bread and butter voice-over work as the Pillsbury Doughboy. Incidentally, this famous advertising icon has a name. His name is “Poppin Fresh” and he was created in 1965 by a Leo Burnett copywriter named Rudy Perz.
Apparently, to get ideas flowing for an ad campaign, Perz had purchased several packages of the refrigerated dough and sat at his kitchen table one evening hitting them against the edge. The cardboard would split open and this dough oozed out. He suddenly thought “What if you hit it on the table and something actually popped out?” He could visualize a warm and loveable 3D character who could interact directly with the customer. Pillsbury loved the idea.
According to Pillsbury.com “Milt Schaffer, who also worked for Disney, was the original designer of the figure of the Doughboy. Perz had explained his worry that the character would look too similar to Casper the friendly ghost, so Schaffer’s design helped resolve that.” He added the baker’s hat and scarf.
Once production for commercials was approved, “animators used five bodies and 15 heads (each head having a different expression) to create numerous looks and positions for the Doughboy’s ads. It took 24 individual shots of the Doughboy for every second of animated action in each commercial. Of course, he was eventually updated to CGI. Since 1965, he has appeared in over 600 ads for over 50 products. “
The Doughboy is now in nearly 30 countries. In Latin America, he’s “El Masin,” which translates to “The Little Dough.” In Germany and Austria, he answers to the name “Teigmännchen” or “The Little Dough Man.” And in Israel, he’s called Efi – a Hebrew nickname for “cute little baker.”
There have only been three English-speaking voices for the Pillsbury Doughboy. More than 50 actors originally auditioned to do the voice for Poppin Fresh, including Paul Winchell, who voiced Tigger from “Winnie the Pooh.” The role went to Paul Frees (also known for voicing Boris Badenov in “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle”).
JoBe has held the honor for almost 35 years. Naturally, I had to stand in the hallway, peeking in, to watch and listen. I don’t remember the specific ad, but when he started speaking, he took his voice up even higher and he was Poppin Fresh; even down to the signature giggle.
And here’s the best part. JoBe was so soft-hearted, that he invited all of the studio’s employees to his house one year for a holiday party. The house was jammed with people. Seriously, who would turn down an invitation from this advertising legend? Poppin Fresh has legs (kind of.)
I wish I could say that I remembered little hot dogs rolled in crescent dough or warm chocolate chip cookies that made me want to break out singing “nothing says lovin’, like something from the oven” but it was too long ago. I do remember a faint odor of cinnamon in the house.
The Pillsbury Doughboy is now 55 years old. He hasn’t aged a bit. He remains ranked as number 6 out of 10 as a top advertising icon of the 20th century as selected by the magazine Advertising Age back in 1999.
I have cracked that cylinder of cardboard on the counter many times myself. And sometimes, I think I can still hear JoBe, like he’s standing right next to me in my kitchen.
The General Mills Blog
A Taste of General Mills Podcast: The Pillsbury Doughboy
JoBe Cerny Wikipedia