Esso’s trying to prolong the gimmick that grew into a light industry
IN THE TORONTO TOY FACTORY of Earle Pulían Co. Ltd., one hundred women sew, trim, inspect and pack yellow and black plush tiger tails. Production over one frantic threeweek period hit 100,000 tails a day, five days a week. And, says Pulían with the distracted air of a man who has a tiger by the tail, “We can’t produce enough. We can’t keep up. It’s always, ‘Give us more!’ ”
The tails are trucked twice daily to National Sales Incentives Ltd. in Don Mills, which distributes them across the country to dealers of its client, Imperial Oil Ltd. The dealers pay up to twenty cents per tail and sell them to motorists, usually at or slightly above cost. Motorists attach the tails to their cars or give them to their children, who attach them to their bicycles or stick them in the waistband of their trousers. Teenagers have found that the tails fill very real needs. In Halifax it’s swingy to tie one around your neck, and in Winnipeg you’re nobody without a tail attached to the zipper of your three-ring binder.
The tails, and stuffed tigers, inflatable vinyl tigers, tiger T-shirts, sweatshirts, punching bags, drinking glasses and other exotica are a fullblown industry within the tiger-toned advertising campaign of Imperial Oil. Launched last May under the supervision of two Canadian ad agencies, the campaign is such a roaring success that executives are busily planning new wrinkles to keep the interest up in 1966.
Meanwhile, Imperial’s parent U. S. firm, Standard Oil (New Jersey), is pushing similar campaigns at home and in fourteen European countries where Esso gasolines are sold. Results include Esso Extra sales increases of up to 32 percent in some countries (although Esso won’t release Canadian sales figures); a tankful of tiger jokes, some of them printable; and, from Quebec, an exotic exercise in bilingualism: “Mettez-y du tigre.”
Other industries have discovered that the tiger is the grrr-eatest pitch-
man. Toothless, of course, and more reminiscent of Sylvester putty tat than the fearful symmetry described by William Blake, tigers currently are selling Canadians two cars (Plymouth and Sunbeam), a detergent (Tide), a beer (Carling, which advises British Columbians to give a tankard to salesweary tigers). Even competing gasolines have jumped into the act. Supertest is getting plenty of mileage from a TV commercial about a gas-station attendant offering a customer a whole menagerie, including a “herring in your bearing” and “a skunk in your trunk.” The customer finally settles for something completely novel in his tank — plain old gasoline.
What we are dealing with here, says a Toronto ad man, “is nothing less than the biggest gimmick to hit the advertising business since chlorophyll.” Undeniable, but why? Oil executives and agency people apparently have been too busy thumping each other on the back to do any motivational research. Dealers report that the campaign is “something we can get caught up in, something simple.” (Hank Zimmerman, who runs an Esso station in Moose Jaw, painted black stripes on his golden Labrador retriever.)
In interviews, customers tell Imperial they find the campaign “refreshing” and “cute” and “fun for the kids.” They find the tiger “friendly but still powerful” and admire the Esso folks “for not saying you’ve got XL/238B in your gas.”
Imperial’s assistant advertising manager, Bill Hayden, says Humble Oil
— the pioneer in tiger-tail advertising
— discovered that the tail was “a kind of talisman” of its historic 1964 campaign in the U. S. “People just seem to go crazy for them. In Canada, we gave away half a million tails in three days when we started the campaign. The kids love them, but an amazing number of adults get tiger-tail fever.” Reading between the felines, Hayden adds: “My personal suspicion is that they’re phallic. Anyway, there’s this great association with power.”
Power! In England, the Rev. Ronald Williams, Bishop of Leicester, recently warned single girls to beware of virile men, all of whom, he said, “carry a tiger in their tank which can lead to situations these girls could not have contemplated in a calmer moment.”
In Vancouver, a woman recently called Imperial Oil headquarters in a nasty frame of mind. “I filled up my tank with your gas over the weekend,” she reported, “and this morning the damned engine jumped right off the block.” It turned out that her motor bolts were loose.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.