The average person born after 1940 believes that a sprite is a supernatural, elf-like creature who lives in the woods and consumes more carbonated beverages than 75% of all European nations.
Sprite Boy, the silver-haired icon from 1940s Coca-Cola advertising, helped increase sales for the soft drink giant during WWII. But did his heart beat to the drum of a different cola? A cache of nearly 15,000 Pepsi bottles has been uncovered at his former home.
Coca-Cola could not be reached for comment. But Sprite Boy’s grandchildren, speaking from an oak tree in a backyard in Cleveland, believe this is a huge misunderstanding. “Gramps was the most truthful little sprite you’d ever want to meet!”
Like athletes adjusting to life after their playing days are over, many advertising characters cannot cope with the reality of being replaced by another mascot, spokesperson or campaign. Many go into hiding, only to resurface years later on Ebay, or at a yard sale somewhere.
“Listen, folks need to realize that these characters are just creatures like everyone else,” states Edwin Francks of Newbury Products, a firm that helps advertising characters adjust to civilian life after their ads run their course.
“Mr. Francks assessment that advertising characters are like everyone else falls short,” argues Peter Branigan of Novelty Enterprises. “Sprite Boy was clearly a possessed elf. There was something off, even demonic, about Sprite Boy. Take for instance this print ad that ran during Christmas in 1948. We see Sprite Boy luring Santa Claus to the refrigerator while looking into the camera and using the international sign for ssshhh. Do you honestly think that Sprite Boy didn’t want us to spoil the ice cold surprise he left for Santa? More than likely he was playing a trick on Mr. Claus. There is not a single record of Sprite Boy ever sharing a Coke with anyone!”
This isn’t the first time the public has learned of an advertising character living a double life. It was rumored that the Jolly Green Giant had anger issues and was prone to erupting into tirades whenever the cameras weren’t rolling. And Mr. Clean’s house was notorious for being less than spotless. In fact, when he was in the Marines he failed barracks inspections so frequently he was nearly court-martialed.
Sprite Boy, who lived on a steady diet of carbonated beverages and pixie sticks, passed away at the age of 97 in 2013. Not really a boy at all, he was 24 years old with a crop of silver hair when he left home to work for Coca-Cola in 1941. One colleague recalled Sprite Boy’s first day at the office. “He looked like a strung-out golden-ager with catatonic eyes,” Gertrude Honeybee wrote in her 2004 memoir, How Sweet It Was When I Was A Young Woman: A Tale Of Love And Carbonation. “His appearance frightened and excited me at the same time. Back then I was tall for a woman, 5’ 10”, and could get any man I wanted. But I fell in love with an elf. And even though our relationship was based primarily on who could drink the most Coke, I always hoped there could be more. But he kept making me pick up the tab, and he would never let me sip out of the same bottle with him. I knew he would never change. That little guy liked Coke too much.”
Even in light of the recent accusations against Sprite Boy, Ms. Honeybee, who is 103 years old, is standing by her elf. “Back in the 40s, it was not uncommon for Coca-Cola to use stand-ins. This arrangement allowed Sprite Boy the occasional day off while a look-alike filled in. I’m betting the 14,847 Pepsi bottles that were allegedly unearthed in Sprite Boy’s backyard were put there by a disgruntled sprite. Sprite Boy had his share of enemies.”
Some experts think that Sprite Boy was addicted to carbonated beverages. Once he reached 70 years old, his taste buds could no longer distinguish the difference between Coke and any other name brand soft drink.
“I once saw him down an 8 ounce grape Nehi in 13 seconds!” cried Earl Bingham, a vintage beverage distributor from Reno, Nevada. “He was small, but he could chug soda with the best of them!”
Another theory is that Sprite Boy was entangled in the sordid affair that existed between the world’s two biggest soft drink powers that eventually led to the Cola Wars. Were periods of his life marked by espionage and never waking up in the same city twice? Would Sprite Boy have traded Coke’s secret ingredients to its competing superpower for a lifetime supply of Pepsi?
“Not likely,” asserts Dr. Timothy Waters, professor of U.S. Soft Drink History at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “For the last 37 years I have studied Sprite Boy’s legacy and I have found no evidence that he hoarded Pepsi behind Coke’s back. People, listen to me carefully. Sprite Boy was dreamed up by a creative person and sketched by artists. It may also surprise you to learn that Sprite Boy didn’t even talk. Coke hired copywriters to put words in his mouth. So, please…stop turning Sprite Boy into a deranged lunatic and let the poor elf rest in peace!”
“I think this is a classic case of do what I say, not what I do,” says Hank Green of Astor Freeman, a market research firm in Boise, Idaho. “Consumers identify with these characters. The last thing they want is to feel like they’ve been duped by one of them.”