There was a lot going on in the world in the early 1970s, the continuing conflict in Southeast Asia, civil unrest in the U.S., growing disillusionment with the government, the beginnings of the Watergate scandal. But amid war, social realignment, and presidential impeachment proceedings, American culture still flourished.
I worked on Libby’s Foods at Tatham-Laird & Kudner in Chicago at the time when the “Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s” theme was created. I wrote TV and print for their entire product line from canned vegetables to fruits to meats.
Libby’s was continually experimenting with new food products in those days, including snacks and desserts. One of the products was a new dessert called Fruit Float. It finished the final development stage and was ready for test market.
We created an introductory advertising idea that revolved around having fun with the “Fruit Float” name itself. It manifested itself in someone challenging someone else to say the name “Fruit Float” three times, real fast; knowing full well that people would flub it, sort of like holding your tongue while trying to say “loose lips, sinks ships.”
The first commercial we produced starred three little girls demonstrating for their father how easy it was to make the dessert and then challenging him to quickly say “Fruit Float” three times. The commercial ran successfully in test market and would most likely be the lead commercial if and when the product went national.
Shortly thereafter, I partnered with Al Weninger, the senior art director in our group, to create a follow-up commercial. We hit upon what we considered a funny and truly memorable family dessert-eating situation: let’s use the ultimate American family – the First Family, the Richard Nixon family.
Knowing we could never get the Nixon family to do it and not wanting to use look-a-likes, we designed the commercial so the viewer would never see faces or bodies on camera, but only hear voices. We accomplished this by setting the scene in the dining room of the White House, sitting the actors in high-back chairs, and shooting from behind.
The commercial ended with hearing the sweet, high-pitched voice of Tricia Nixon saying: “Daddy. Bet’cha can’t say Fruit Float three times, real fast!” The camera focused on the high-back chair at the head of the table as you heard a deep male voice say quickly, precisely, and without mistake, “Fruit Float, Fruit Float, Fruit Float.” Then a hand rose from each side of the chair with the fingers forming the trademark Nixon “V” for victory sign.
Libby’s was a great client, always open to new ideas and willing to take a chance. We presented the commercial and they thought it hilarious. Because of the political climate in those days, however, networks were extremely uptight about airing any kind of satire involving the President, so we knew their censors would in all probability turn it down. Rather than fight the censors, we concluded we could avoid any kind of network confrontation if the President, himself, approved the commercial.
With that in mind, we helped the account staff compose a cover letter, made copies of the storyboard and scripts, and sent it to the White House. Our cover letter ended by stating that our purpose was to merely portray the First Family as a typical American family in a typical fun dinner situation.
About a week later, the account management director called a meeting. He held up a letter on White House stationery from an aide to the President. He read aloud to us. The first thing that caught our ears was the statement that although the Nixon family and the White House could not prevent us from airing this commercial, they strongly (my underline) suggest we don’t.
The closing statement, however, was the clincher.
It said that in no way do the Nixons want to be portrayed as a typical American family.