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Not all 1980s era spokes-creatures suffered at the hands of human children as Lucky the Leprechaun did. Chester Cheetah and Tony the Tiger enjoyed an open dialogue with kids that, while perhaps overstepping the bounds of traditional customer-service interactions, symbolized a new era of peaceful human-mascot relations. But none worked harder to maintain this lasting peace than diminutive Ernest J. Keebler.
For as much as children adored Chester and Tony, they also feared their feline power, for if little ones know one thing about cats, it's that they have claws. That fundamental imbalance in the power dynamic meant Chester Cheetah and Anthony "Tony" Tiger never ran in fear of thieving children (as Lucky did) or the indignity of having their personal space violated (as the Pillsbury Doughboy did). Keebler knew that to earn the respect of children, and thus the market share their greedy mouths represented, he'd need claws as well.
Santa Claus, that is. Through deft personal branding, Keebler modeled himself after the most famous elf of them all. He played up his age by refusing to dye his gray hair or switching to contact lenses. He avoided jolly-elf stereotyping by wearing grandfatherly sweaters, slouchy slacks, and sensible shoes.
Like Claus, Keebler used covert means to observe children and subtly influence their behavior. He foresaw that children merely liking his cookies wouldn't sustain a Sylvan empire; he needed cookies that kids would share. Only though positive word of mouth and grassroots buzz could he cement his brand in the cookie marketplace. And so, unlike in traditional capitalist models, Keebler built a system to reward children for giving away cookies, a ploy that allowed for exponential doubling of his customer base.
Keebler's enduring legacy relates also to how he conducted himself among employees and fellow elves. He affected an affable, grandfatherly personality that commanded respect without stifling creativity or productivity. He proved a capable CEO whose laissez-faire management style let his under-elves flourish. To cite a famous example, Keebler allowed a younger elf named Elwood a generous budget and free reign for recipe development. Where others would have balked at the idea of an elephant powered Goldberg-ian device in the hallowed Keebler bakery, Keebler instead nurtured Elwood's ambitions.This investment came back to him twofold as Elwood invented the double stuffed peanut butter Keebler sandwich cookie.
The most famous and innovative cookie to come off the production line during his tenure? The Fudge Stripe cookie. A more frivolous baker would have fully coated the entire cookie in fudge; a stingier one would have stopped after just a drizzle. Keebler instead saw a beautiful balance between a fully enrobed cookie and one with elegant pinstripes. With a playful hole punched in the center, he transformed a static cookie into a dynamic plaything to be worn like a ring or rolled like a wheel.
For those of us without a magical chocolate pot, dipping and striping the cookies will take a little more time, but the results are elfin delicious.
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