Doughboy RIP (an object lesson in marketing)

Sad news today in the branding worldDoughboy.  This obit is circulating on the internet.

The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, Betty Crocker, and the Hostess Twinkies. Early in his career he faced a minor scandal for appearing in "Hot Crossed Buns," a short movie that exposed his affinity for the pop ‘n fresh genre. Nonetheless, Doughboy rose quickly in show business and remained a roll model for millions. Doughboy is survived by his wife Play Dough, two children, John Dough and Jane Dough, plus they had one in the oven. The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.

The larger issue: this is a good example of a brand icon being taken up and reworked by the consumer (aka the multiplier).  In this moment of "co-creation," the consumer breaths life, humor, and interest into an icon that heretofor hasn’t done much more than giggle. 

A good thing?  If you are one of the "new marketing" marketers, you say "yes."  This is funny, lively, and animating (the funereal theme notwithstanding).  If you are one of the "old marketing" marketers you blink in astonishment, mutter "an obit for my brand!" and reach for a lawyer. 

As someone who belongs to the first group, I think the argument for tolerating and indeed encouraging this kind of thing is clear cut.  We may think of it as a simple trade off of just the kind that BMW made when it allowed Jay Leno to introduce the Z on the stage of the Tonight show. 

To get currency, spontaneity, and liveliness, we was must give up control and all hopes of micromanaging the meanings of the brand.  Or to put this another way, the only way to persuade people to take an interest in the brand citadel is to throw down the draw bridge

It’s no longer "if you build it, they will come" but "if they build it, they will come." 


Origins online here, here, and here.

With light editing by Grant McCracken and humor implants by Brian Kenny.

6 thoughts on “Doughboy RIP (an object lesson in marketing)

  1. Grant

    Tom, thanks for the kind words and the season greetings. I will have my ethnographer’s hat on on Thursday as I watch my Americans relatives giving thanks. Of course, I will be giving thanks of my own, not least for having been delivered out of the hands of the colonials. Thanks, Grant

  2. jens

    .happy thanksgiving
    “… if they build it, they will come.” also sounds like a classical asacker line. i always like that.
    happy thanksgiving to all.

  3. Jim Dingwall

    Grant: I have faith that Doughboy will rise again and be reburned. But until that glorious day in hoven let me just say happy 1st anniversary from all of us to you and Pam (hard copy card to follow). And yes indeed, have a great Thanksgiving.


  4. Charu

    Grant, excellent perspective, as always. “if they build it” reminded me of the story I have heard behind doughboy’s birth – that qualitative research had shown that for many women, the process of baking was akin to giving birth. and bingo! the doughboy was born. I have no idea about the vercity of this story, but as a qualitative researcher, this ranks very high on my list of favorite urban branding legends 🙂

  5. brian kenny



    Yesterday, I re-worked an Internet joke about the Pillsbury Doughboy. I was’t thinking about generic or brand carbohydrates or celiac revenge, but about insipid, pornographic celebrity. In that mode, I penned in a new line for the joke about scandal, hot crossed buns, and the pop ‘n fresh genre. Basically, I validated the awareness that there are irreverent ebb and surging flow components in nearly all contingent constructs of [brand] reputation. (Since reputation is always confirmed or denied by outsiders, reputation remains a legitimate subject of anthropological probity and academic and corporate inquiry).

    Hermitag wrote me noting a glaring act of ommission in my deconstruction of yeasty brand celebrity. To my e-mail he responded with the eternally important brand construct known as ‘true loyalty’ (TL). Hermitag let me know that I had failed to account for a consumer test of TL when I neglected mention of the Pillsbury doughboy’s companion animal, “Fi-dough” … ;> Ah, thus it seems that humor — forever in the making — is mostly about the acts of creation,
    re-performance and storytelling.

    Since I have chance to again put finger to keyboard, let me say that humor is a brand multiplier with power to equal Einstein’s elevator, or just as easily humor turns and becomes the moderating fifth horseman of the apocalypse — the one riding alongside War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death — who makes sudden detours to spatter multiple reputations (of the brand) with fresh colic and road apples.

    Brian Kenny


    Reputations Research Network

    Bolton G., Katok E., and A. Ockenfels
    2003 Cooperation among Strangers with Limited Information about Reputation. Available at

    Cabral, L. and Hortacsu, A.
    2005 The Dynamics of Seller Reputation: Evidence from eBay. Available at

    Gleiber, D., Shull, S. and C. Waligora
    1998 Measuring The President’s Professional Reputation. American Politics Quarterly, Vol 26, No 3, July 1998, pp. 366-385

    Landon, S. and Smith, C.
    1997 The Use of Quality and Reputation Indicators by Consumers: The Case of Bordeaux Wine. Journal of Consumer Policy 20: 289–323

    Miles, M. and Covin, J.
    2000 Environmental Marketing: A Source of Reputational, Competitive, and Financial Advantage. Journal of Business Ethics 23: 299–311

    Whitmeyer, J.
    2000 Effects of Positive Reputation Systems. Social Science Research 29: 188–207

Comments are closed.