Kellogg’s Rice Krispies first appeared on shelves in 1928 and marketing executives, as well as the buying public, soon noticed the distinctive crackling sound made when milk is added to the toasted rice cereal. In 1932 a radio advert written by Kellogg’s’ then US advertising agency NW Ayer focused on the sound:
Listen to the fairy song of health, the merry chorus sung by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies as they merrily snap, crackle and pop in a bowl of milk. If you’ve never heard food talking, now is your chance.
The radio ad featured in Ireene Wicker’s popular programme, The Singing Lady, which was sponsored by the Kellogg Company and promoted as America’s first radio network programme for children. Who wrote the jingle and thus coined the long-lasting ‘Snap! Crackle! Pop!’ line for Rice Krispies? Sadly, the answer has been lost: Kellogg’s has no record of the author and NW Ayer no longer exists (but if any readers know, please get in touch).
Those now-famous three words went on to live way beyond that initial radio jingle. Later in the same year the jingle first aired, the words ‘Snap! Crackle! Pop!’ were incorporated into the artwork on the front of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies packets. And the following year, a tiny illustrated gnome wearing a baker’s hat and carrying a spoon appeared on a side panel of the box. His name (written on his hat) was Snap. Characters Crackle and Pop soon joined him in press ads for the cereal. By the end of the 30s all three characters, drawn by illustrator Vernon Grant (1902–1990), appeared on the side and back panels of Rice Krispies packaging.
Apparently, illustrator Grant had approached NW Ayer in 1933. He had drawn three gnomes, naming them Mr Snap, Mr Crackle and Mr Pop, with the express idea that they could be used to help market Rice Krispies. According to Mary Lynn Norton, curator of the Vernon Grant Collection for the Culture and Heritage Museums in York County, South Carolina, NW Ayer responded to Grant’s suggestion by putting him on an immediate retainer of $5,000 and utilised his talents through to 1941, paying him close to a quarter of a million dollars in that period. As well as drawing the characters as gnomes, Grant worked for the agency illustrating the nursery rhyme stories which appeared on the back of Rice Krispies boxes and further aided the cereal’s appeal to youngsters.
These illustrated stories became so popular that Kellogg’s began including box-top coupons that families could post in to receive elaborate full-colour story and song booklets, prints, stickers, children’s notepads, ink-blotters and more – all illustrated by Grant. Thus a tradition of cereal box giveaways and additional merchandising took hold which went on to become hugely popular.
During the second world war, Snap, Crackle and Pop appeared in ads urging people to “save time, fuel, energy”. In the 50s there was even a fourth, shortlived character called Pow who represented the nutritional value of the cereal.
In 1949 the three characters underwent something of a makeover, around the time Kellogg’s took on a new ad agency, Leo Burnett, to work on a number of products (although not Rice Krispies). Sadly the Kellogg’s archive has no record of the name of the artist responsible. It was at this time that Snap, Crackle and Pop changed from gnomes with large facial features to more boyish-looking characters with smaller hats, each of which displayed the name of its wearer. Snap always wears a baker’s hat, Crackle a red or striped stocking cap, and Pop a military style hat. Since then the characters have been re-drawn by a host of commercial artists including Don Margolis and Ted Carr.
In 1951, Leo Burnett pro-actively developed a new four-colour package design for Rice Krispies which Kellogg’s introduced not just to Rice Krispies but to its whole range. The rest of the industry soon followed suit. In 1952, Leo Burnett was awarded all of Kellogg’s US and Canadian advertising.
The characters have been known to sing jingles in animated TV ads since their television debut in 1959, and their voices also changed from high- pitched pixie voices to more pleasant speaking and singing ranges.
It seems a shame that Kellogg’s has no record in its extensive archive of the name of the copywriter who first used the words ‘Snap! Crackle! Pop!’ in a Rice Krispies promotion. Whoever it was is probably long gone, though they surely would have loved to have seen Kellogg’s’ various foreign language onomatopoeic translations of the names for use in non-English speaking markets. In Danish: ‘Pif! Paf! Puf!’ In French: ‘Cric! Crac! Croc!’ And in German: ‘Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!’