Monday, December 13, 2010

Cream of Wheat Advertising Proves A Couple of Timeless Truths.

That phenomenal Minnesota snowfall? The one that crushed the 580,000-pound, Teflon-coated, inflatable fiberglass Minneapolis Metrodome roof? My first non-sports-guy thought was, “Where are the Timberwolves going to play?” Then I realized that this stadium was where the Vikings hang out.

Still, I could have sworn I’d seen an ad years ago for…what? Wolves? Cereal? Sure enough, I searched my shelves and found the art work in a superb book. The Nabisco Brands Collection of Cream of Wheat Advertising Art started 30 years ago, when archivist David Stivers discovered that Cream of Wheat (which became part of Nabisco in ’62) had kept detailed records of each and every piece of art, illustration, photo and media schedule.

This led to re-discovering the artworks themselves, 1,600 pieces that “included original oil on canvas, oil on board, watercolors, sketches, premiums and proofs.” It is a superb book that dramatizes just how much “art” went into advertising in the so-called old days.

In one sense, it was one of advertising’s golden ages, when a major company could line up and use work from some of the most accomplished painters of the day – which stretched from 1902, when the Cream of Wheat Company dedicated $10,000 to its first ad budget; to 1962. During the first few decades, EV Brewer, Katherine Richardson Wireman, the incomparable Roy Frederic Spreter and Maud Fangel, among many others, contributed to the Cream of Wheat advertising pool.

Oh, you’re thinking: Nowadays it’s all stock photos and royalty-free illustrations, not much chance to commission and use such superb artists and illustrators on contemporary work. But that’s not the complete case. In fact, some features are kind of...timeless.

There are just as many – if not more – fine artists crossing media today. Perhaps more. The illustrator working right now on her computer is just as accomplished as a Brewer or a Rockwell in his studio. And clients can be persuaded (depending on the company and the market) to go with custom work.

Even going through the Cream of Wheat advertising art collection, you can see how the company used the same images repeatedly in different ad formats and media – even if they were commissioned. Copyrights and usage agreements? Hah! Opportunity and appearances in national magazines and newspapers. You betcha.

Because of the weekend’s Minnesota snow, I picked the wolves as the art appeared in Stivers’s book. It’s “The Yukon Freighter” by NC Wyeth, created in 1908. It was the great artist’s third painting for cereal adverts. The 40” x 35” oil-on-canvas earned Wyeth $500. Truth!

1 comment:

Richard Laurence Baron said...

FYI #1. The $500 that young Wyeth got paid in 1909? It's the equivalent of $12,205 a hundred years later, based on the Consumer Price Index, $1.00 = $24.41.

Not a bad draw for a guy so recently out of art school.