Remember that old Quaker Oats Life’s commercial where a pudgy-face kid named Mikey complacently stuffs his face with cereal? If you have no freakin’ idea what we are talking about, you will soon enough. Quaker Oats has relaunched the vintage ad campaign in full-assault mode and, for a limited time, it will be megascreened in New York’s Times Square, on the tube and on the Life Cereal Web site (www.LifeCereal.com).
The so-called “Hey, Mikey!” spot (which originally aired from 1972 to 1984) is considered one of the most successful ad campaigns ever.
The high concept goes like this:
1) Three brothers are sitting at the breakfast table. 2) The two older kids wonder if the bowl of Life cereal placed in front of them tastes good. 3) They summon their little brother, Mikey, to taste-test the food, and the famous line, “He won’t eat it. He hates everything” is uttered. 4) The finicky kid miraculously chows down, prompting the older brothers to shout that other famous line, “He likes it! Hey Mikey!”
And on the heels of such an occasion, we decided to call up the Quaker Oats boy — John Gilchrist in real life, who’s now all grown up, living in the Big Apple and working in marketing for a radio station.
Here are his thoughts.
On the fragmented nature of being (or, “What’s it like being Mikey?”):
”You know what, I’m John Gilchrist, and I’m also Mikey. It has certainly has a huge impact in my life. I’m the finicky kid, I get to try Life cereal and actually like it.” On the relationship between time and memory (or, “Do people recognize you?”)
“I’m 32 years old now. But when I was 12 and growing, people could still recognize me, but they would look for an 8-year-old. People still can’t believe that the ad came out 28 years ago. People would still come up and say, “Hey, you’re that kid.” And I’m like, “whatever.” There’s no stardom there.” On how Life affected life (or, “How did the ad change your life?”):
“It’s affected my life greatly. I grew up in the business and did several hundred products. Nothing is as great as Life cereal. It’s a special part of me. It’s been part of my life for many, many years. I have a 2-year-old son myself, and to include him in the festivities is great.” On family values (or, “Are your brothers jealous because you’re the one who got all the props?”):
“The other two kids in the commercial were my brothers. I was 3 or 4 at the time. I remember being there but not a lot of the details.”
“But you know what, [my brothers] did do all the work. They kid that they care, but I know they don’t. We were all in it together. It was fun, and they were never jealous.”
”We talk [and reminisce] about [the ad], but it’s not something we talk about on a daily basis. My brothers are my best friends. It’s fun to re-live the experience, definitely.” On ubiquity (or, “Is it going to be weird seeing yourself on TV again?”):
”You know what, I haven’t got a chance to see it yet. But I think it’s cool. It’s a funny thing seeing yourself 28, 29 years prior.” On the duties of an ad spokesman (or, “What’s your favorite cereal in real life?”):
”Let me see if I can spell it out for you: L.I.F.E. (laughter) What do you expect me to say?” Mikey Watch (©www.LifeCereal.com) On the perks of being an ad spokesman (or, “Do you have one of those Mikey watches Quaker Oats is selling?”):
”Yeah, I have one. I don’t have it on right now. I do wear it.” On being a cult icon (or, “Do you know that you were the subject of an urban myth?”):
”Yes, I heard about that. It was something about my stomach blowing up [because he mixed Coke and pop rocks]. It’s untrue and unfounded. It was like 20 years ago, I was 10, and I giggled at it and forgot about it.” On universal emotions (or, “Why is the ad still so popular after all these years?”):
“The resiliency of the spot is due to the fact that people have been watching Mikey for so many years. People can relate to it, they have people in their own family who resemble Mikey. It’s just an all-American commercial.” Now, that’s something to think about over breakfast.