Mr. Owl and the Question that Plagues Mankind
Forget the meaning of life…the biggest unsolved question that has plagued mankind since at least 1968 is “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” This burning question is at the root of one of the longest-running and best-loved animated commercials of all time—the Mr. Owl and the Tootsie Pop commercial. Here’s what you don’t know about that beloved commercial.
Mr. Owl was the Brainchild of the Doner Ad Agency
David Doner, president and CEO of the Doner Ad Agency, once explained that his agency was hired by the Tootsie Roll company to create a television spot for its new Tootsie Pop, a sucker with a hard candy exterior and a Tootsie Roll center. The creative team at the ad agency was tasked with finding a memorable way to introduce the lollipop, show the connection to the Tootsie Roll candy, and to get people talking about the product. They decided to play up the fact that consumers wanted to get to the soft, Tootsie Roll center as quickly as possible. They had the boy in the commercial ponder, “how many licks does it take?”
Mr. Owl was Born in 1968
The wise Mr. Owl from the Tootsie Pop commercial was created in 1968. The Tootsie Pop commercial, however, didn’t receive widespread play until 1970. The commercial is still being aired today.
The Original Commercial was Longer
The version of the Mr. Owl commercial that we can still see on TV is much shorter than the original 60-second spot. Over the years, it has been edited down to 30-seconds and 15-seconds. Amazingly the viewer still gets that burning question feels from the ads, even in their shortened form.
Who was Mr. Owl?
Does the voice of Mr. Owl sound vaguely familiar to you? It should. Voiceover artist Paul Winchell, the voice of Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons, supplied the voice for Mr. Owl.
Mr. Owl was Not Alone
In the original 60-second spot, Mr. Owl and the questioning boy are joined by a few other characters. The boy first approaches as Mr. Cow to ask his question. The cow admits that he is not the smartest animal around and that he cheats by biting his Tootsie Pop to get to the center. He suggests the boy ask another animal who is smarter and cleverer than he is. Next, the boy poses his question to the clever Mr. Fox, but this character, too, bites his Tootsie Pop. Mr. Fox suggests asking someone who is older and has more life experience. The boy finds Mr. Turtle and asks him his question. Although the elderly Mr. Turtle is full of life lessons and experiences, he, too, bites his sucker. He suggests that the boy visit the smartest animal of all.
Why are Owls Associated with Wisdom?
In Roman mythology, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, was often represented by an owl. The link between Athena and owls was so strong that, to this day, we view owls as wise animals. The creative team at Doner Ad Agency was using this trope to show the viewers of their Tootsie Pop commercial that Mr. Owl was the smartest animal around. They enhanced his credibility by having him wear a mortarboard hat just like the one that graduates wear.
Mr. Owl’s Experiment
When asked the burning question by the young boy, Mr. Owl immediately decides to conduct his own experiment to determine the answer. His results, however, are a bit skewed. Instead of simply licking the Tootsie Pop, Mr. Owl bites into it, just as the others have done. But he is confident in his findings and declares that “three” is the answer. The commercial concludes with the narrator telling us that “the world may never know” the answer to the question of how many licks are needed to reach the Tootsie Roll center.
A Second Experiment
In 2015, researchers from Florida State University and New York University did their own experiments to determine the number of licks it would take to reach the candy center of a Tootsie Pop. Unlike Mr. Owl’s earlier experiment, there was no biting in these studies. The conclusion? The researchers found that the average Tootsie Pop required 997 licks before the Tootsie Roll center was exposed. Mr. Owl was sooooo close.
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