It was back in the early 1960s. I was sitting in the Chicago office of Bob Noel, who was the creative head of our advertising agency, the Leo Burnett Company.
Burnett was a large agency with accounts like Marlboro, Kellogg, Starkist, and Oldsmobile, to mention a few. The Burnett agency had a long history with Green Giant dating back to 1935. The agency had been working for a long time on how to bring the Green Giant from magazine advertising to the relatively new medium of television.
Past creative efforts had not been successful. Noel slid a large sheet of paper across his desk in front of me.
“This is our newest idea for a new TV campaign for Green Giant,” Noel said.
What I was looking at was a pencil sketch of the Giant standing in a valley with a stream flowing in back of him. Across the top were the words, “In the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.” That was it; it was intriguing.
I asked him to tell me more. “It’s not my idea,” he said. “We just hired a creative guy out of Minneapolis where he had created the campaign for Hamm’s beer: “Land of Sky Blue Waters,” with the charming black and white bear. The creative guy was Cleo Hovel.”
I later met Cleo and discovered he had grown up in western Minnesota. He was a creative genius, one of a handful I had the pleasure of working with over the years. Credit Bob Noel, however, for adding the vocal “Ho, Ho, Ho” to the first commercials.
That was the genesis of what went on to be named by Advertising Age (the industry bible) as one of the top five creative campaigns of the 20th Century. Another in the top five, the Pillsbury Doughboy, was also a creation of the Burnett agency, though not by Cleo Hovel. Rudy Perz gets the credit for the Doughboy, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for another time.
Commercial story boards were created for the new Green Giant campaign and Burnett contracted with Swift-Chaplin Production Studios in Hollywood to produce the first commercials. The Green Giant in the commercials was actually a trim 5’8” actor with an athletic build. He was painted green and dressed in a leafy costume. The magic of Hollywood and the camera.
The campaign was an immediate success and ran in updated versions well into the 2000s. (Note: Green Giant is now owned by B&G Foods, a holding company in New Jersey. Doing quite well, from what I can determine.)
The Green Giant has gone through a series of changes and ownership since the founding of the company in 1903. He was born and grew up in neighboring Le Sueur — the original “Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.” Too bad Le Sueur hasn’t been able to capitalize more on the lore of the Giant.
Down near Blue Earth, Minnesota, where a Green Giant cannery still operates, stands a 55-foot tall statue of the Giant that gets a lot of publicity. That, too, is a story onto itself, maybe for another time.
The above account is only part of the story.