Ketchup, luggage, hot chocolate, and bras: “We’re Beatrice.”

Remember that ad campaign from about thirty years ago? Annoying, right? What were they thinking, anyway?!

Image from zehnkatzen.blogspot.com

Image from theimaginaryworld.com

According to Wikipedia, The Beatrice Creamery Company was founded in Beatrice, Nebraska in 1894. They purchased butter, milk, and eggs from local farmers and graded them for resale. In 1905, the company was incorporated as the Beatrice Creamery Company of Iowa. By the turn of the century they operated nine creameries and three ice cream plants, and shipped dairy products across the US. In 1913 the company moved to Chicago, and in 1939 acquired the city’s other major dairy company. During World War II, its “Meadow Gold” milk and ice cream brands were known across the country. In 1946, they changed their name to Beatrice Foods. From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, they expanded into Canada and purchased several other firms, eventually amassing (to put it mildly) a diverse array of consumer products.

BeatriceLogo.png

Image from wikipedia

Ironically enough, in 1984 simply nothing would do for the Beatrice marketing geniuses but to inform the public that they controlled every single thing that could ever be bought. They appended their wordmark logo to everything they owned. And all their TV ads ended with the red-and-white Beatrice wordmark and the soothing jingle, “You’ve known us all along.” The clip below was a “brand-building” ad, an attempt to meld all the company’s beloved products into one idyllic soft-focused dream featuring clowns, puppies, and Thanksgiving dinner. (I think that may be Kid in the Hall Dave Foley reading the storybook to the sleepy child.) Eventually every ad ended with a shorter version, a woman’s seductive voice saying “We’re Beatrice” and the wordmark.

“We’re Beatrice” ended up on ads for the most mind-boggling, surreal mix of products you could imagine: Avis rent-a-cars, Peter Pan peanut butter, Tropicana orange juice, Rusty Jones car rustproofing, Dannon yogurt, Swift Butterball turkeys, Krispy Kreme donuts, Wesson oil, Samsonite luggage, Playtex bras, Swiss Miss hot chocolate, Orville Redenbacher popcorn, and so many many more. Even Hunt’s ketchup. From Wikipedia:

It was during both the Winter and Summer Olympics this year (1984) that the corporation flooded the TV airwaves with advertisements letting the public know that many brands they were familiar with were actually part of Beatrice Foods. These ads used the tagline (with a jingle) “We’re Beatrice. You’ve known us all along.” After the Olympics, advertisements for its products continued to end with the catchphrase “We’re Beatrice” and an instrumental version of the “You’ve known us all along” portion of the jingle, as the red and white “Beatrice” logo would simultaneously appear in the bottom right hand corner. However, it was soon determined that the campaign alienated consumers, calling attention to the fact that many of their favorite brands were in fact part of a far-reaching multinational corporation, and the campaign was pulled off the air by autumn.

That summer I worked at a social service agency in the north Minneapolis suburbs. The PR person took maternity leave, so I edited the agency newsletter in her absence. The newsletter got sent to community members, clients’ families, similar agencies, public officials, and other stakeholders. A big distribution. So for that summer’s edition, in teeny tiny text on the back of the newsletter, right above the address block, I wrote “We’re Beatrice.” I thought it was hilarious. The executive director was not as amused.

Beatrice eventually went under, but not because of the annoying ads. It got so big and ungainly that it had to sell its divisions off. Plus its leather tannery division was charged with allegedly dumping toxic waste in the water supply of a Boston suburb. (“Your tap water: We’re Beatrice.”) Eventually the conglomerate was split up, and its most familiar food products were absorbed by another conglomerate, ConAgra.

The “We’re Beatrice” campaign may have been smart on paper, but it was annoying in practice. It came off as smug; and let’s face it, Americans don’t want to be told that one single company controls every one of their purchases. Even though it may be the truth, don’t rub our noses in it. In other cultures it may be tolerated or even welcomed, but it reinforces the preoccupations of the most paranoid tinfoil-hat-wearing American people. According to blogger John McKenzie at Food Network Humor:

“In the 80s it seemed like Beatrice Foods owned EVERYTHING, and wanted EVERYONE to know it, and stuck that annoying little voice-over at the end of all their products’ commercials. ‘We’re Beatrice.’ I always expected that woman to continue to say, ‘… and you’re not!’ Then blow a raspberry.”

Name-Brand Ketchup. We’re Beatrice. You’ve known us all along.

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2 Comments on “Ketchup, luggage, hot chocolate, and bras: “We’re Beatrice.””

  1. Great back story. I really remember how annoyed I was with this mythical creature Beatrice. I really enjoyed this, It’s well written.

    Oh, and it’s hysterical that you put that on the back of the newsletter.

    Not everyone gets it I guess.

  2. Parker51 says:

    David Letterman captured it brilliantly during a sketch on his late-night show back in the 80’s where he played various novelty songs and corporate jingles with snide commentary. After playing the Beatrice 45 RPM acetate provided by their corporate communications department and had the camera pan across an included brochure with many smiling consumers, he stared into the camera and dryly stated, “Oppose us, and we will crush you!”


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