From Budweiser-loving guys shouting “WHASSUP!?” to Mountain Dew’s utterly bizarre Puppy Monkey Baby, Super Bowl ads have often been about who can be the most obnoxious. However, in 2017, one ad managed to catch some attention by subverting that trend and airing a regular old Eggo waffle commercial from the 1980s instead. Actually, it was only five seconds of an old ad — the commercial then glitched out and dissolved into images of monsters and kids yelling. It was a spot for Season Two of Stranger Things, and after Season One made Eggo waffles an emotional touchpoint for the series, using a wholesome commercial of yore was a perfectly appropriate way to tease the show’s return.
Naturally, the five seconds clipped from that vintage commercial featured the brand’s famous tagline, “L’eggo My Eggo.” This not only made the ad immediately identifiable, but — since the slogan has been in use almost continuously since 1972 — it also sent a twinge of nostalgia down the spines of several generations. And yet, the Eggo story goes way further back than that — a full four decades further back, in fact.
In 1932, a guy in his mid-20s named Frank Dorsa teamed up with his brothers in San Jose, and began making mayonnaise in his parents’ basement. As mayo is made from eggs, he named the company Eggo and began selling his product locally to great success. After that, the Dorsa Brothers branched out and began making waffle batter, and eventually, they made enough money to buy a local potato chip factory. Then they began making potato chips, noodles, pretzels and several other foods.
Until his death in 1996, Dorsa was known as a tinkerer, and as such, he was pretty innovative when it came to food production. After acquiring the potato chip factory in 1938, he invented a machine that continuously peeled potatoes, which sped up the chip-making process. In the 1950s, sales on his waffle batter were lagging, and the frozen food market was exploding in America, so, using a merry-go-round engine, he rigged up a machine that automated waffle making so that he could break into the newly burgeoning frozen waffle scene.
While it’s sometimes reported that Dorsa invented frozen waffles, they existed for at least a few years before Eggo’s frozen waffles hit stores in 1953. There’s also a possibility that they were originally called “Froffles,” but there’s a surprising amount of misinformation out there about frozen waffles, so I can’t confirm this. Even The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America has some incorrect entries, as they cite Dorsa as the inventor of frozen waffles, yet newspaper ads for other brands predate Eggo. There are also a lot of online sources — like Wikipedia — that state that Eggo waffles got their name from an “eggy” taste, but that’s also wrong, as (again) the name started with Eggo mayonnaise. Regardless, Eggo most certainly popularized frozen waffles and, to this day, they own three-quarters of the frozen waffle market.
In 1970, food conglomerate Kellogg acquired the Eggo company, and soon afterwards, they turned to the Leo Burnett Ad Agency to find a catchy way to promote their new waffle brand. Burnett not only delivered on this, they created a slogan so good that it would last for a half century, with only mild alterations from time to time (some recent ads say “L’eggo Your Eggo” and “L’eggo With Eggo,” but I’m sure they’ll return to “L’eggo My Eggo” soon enough).
The very first “L’eggo My Eggo” commercial was pretty simple. It featured a dad and a son in a mini tug-of-war at the breakfast table, where each had a hand on an Eggo that had just popped out of the toaster. First, the dad says “L’eggo my eggo,” then the son says the same in reply. The dad proceeds to try and guilt the son into giving up his waffle, with the cute, stone-faced kid unmoved by the argument. The dad was played by the late Gordon Jump, who would become famous on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, and the son was played by Ricky Powell.
“I started acting at around seven years old, and I was about 10 when I shot that commercial,” Powell recalls. “I still remember when I got the script for the audition. My mom and I turned and looked at each other and said, ‘What’s an Eggo?’ No one had heard of them back then! But I got the part, and I only had one line to worry about, which was nice.”
When I ask Powell if he’s a fan of Eggos, he tells me that when his son was growing up, that’s all he ate. “I had them here and there, but I don’t eat them now because I’ve been vegan for five years, so it’s off the menu for me,” he explains. “Regardless, it’s still fun to be a piece of that slice of Americana.” At any rate, he likes to think of himself as one of the many reasons the slogan lasted so long. “I’d like to say it was my influence over the American public influence that did that,” he jokes. “But I guess it was just unique and catchy enough to stand the test of time.”
In addition to the slogan, the premise of that first commercial — a kid besting a parent in a waffle tug-of-war — would endure as well. While some spots — like the one cut into the Stranger Things Super Bowl ad — featured sibling rivalries, Kellogg always came back to the tried-and-true parent-versus-kid dynamic. In the mid-2000s, there was even a popular series of animated ads where a dim-witted inventor dad tried, in vain, to steal Eggos from his daughter. (As an Eggo-loving father of a little girl, I must note that it isn’t that hard to steal an Eggo from your kid, but the ads are cute regardless).
Because of the success of the slogan and because Kellogg is such a big company — and because they’re delicious — Eggo waffles became an American food staple in the 1970s and 1980s, and have remained as big a part of American culture as Cheerios and Wonder Bread. The brand even survived a particularly saccharine commercial appearance from the all-blond boy band Hanson in 1998:
Because of Eggos’ incredible staying power, there was little reason for Kellogg to expect a random boost in sales starting in 2016. But thanks to two Eggo-loving brothers who were given their own Netflix show, that’s exactly what happened.
In Episode One of Stranger Things, we meet Eleven, a girl with telekinetic powers who’s spent most of her life in a lab. At the end of the pilot, she meets Mike, Lucas and Dustin, three typical kids from the 1980s who love riding their bikes and playing Dungeons & Dragons. Beginning in Episode Two, Eleven is hiding out in Mike’s house and the first thing he feeds her is Eggo waffles. She quickly falls in love with Eggos, and throughout the first, second and third seasons, she is regularly seen enjoying them. Probably Eleven’s most memorable Eggo moment came in Episode Six, when she stole boxes of Eggos from a grocery store and used her powers to smash the glass of the front doors of the frozen food section.
Thanks to good writing, charming actors and a good dose of 1980s nostalgia, Stranger Things provided Netflix with a huge boost in viewership, but, rather unexpectedly, it provided a similar boost to Eggo sales, too. According to Business Insider, Eggo sales increased 14 percent thanks to the show. Now, Eggo waffles are used on a variety of Stranger Things products, from Eleven action figures to a Stranger Things Eggo card game.
The Eggo-Stranger Things pairing has been so successful that it transcends traditional product placement. Because for Eleven, Eggos aren’t just a food item. To a character that’s been denied a childhood, Eggos represent what it means to be a normal child.
The same goes for the target, 1980s-kid demographic of Stranger Things. To these viewers, Stranger Things evokes a time when kids could go out on their bikes and do whatever they wanted until it was dark out. It harkens back to a bygone era where the world seemed simpler and safer. Similarly, there’s a certain autonomy and independence to Eggo waffles. A kid just has to pop them in the toaster and pour some syrup on them — maybe for the first time ever, they don’t need mom or dad to make a meal for them.
All of which is why, even after all these years and Stranger Things or no Stranger Things, we just can’t l’eggo of them.