Takeout Nostalgia: Peanut Butter’s Most Iconic Ad Campaigns

POV: you just got home from school, your favourite cartoon is on, and your mom just handed you a pb&j sandwich, life is good. 

How did humble peanut paste (initially marketed as a protein source for the toothless) achieve icon status in the childhood snacks category? Unsurprisingly, we can look to the world of advertising to follow its rise. 

The world meets creamy peanut butter

Let’s take it back to the beginning, when hydrogenated peanut butter first hit the shelves (pun intended). Prior to Skippy, peanut butter resembled the natural products you find in the organic aisle of your grocery store now. Without added chemicals, the oils in peanut butter tend to separate. So when chemist Joseph Rosefield introduced partially hydrogenated oil to keep it from separating and began producing his own brand of peanut butter called Skippy, the smooth, creamy texture and shelf-stability were a huge selling feature. As this ad points out, if you put a jar of skippy in your pantry and forget about it for weeks and weeks and weeks, it will still be fresh and spreadable. 

Jam: a match made in heaven

Another critical turning point in peanut butter’s rise to the top happened when it met the acquaintance of jam, a match made in heaven. The Boston Cooking School magazine published an article recommending finger sandwiches be filled with peanut paste and currant or crab apple jelly. “The combination is delicious, and, so far as I know, original,” writes author Julia Davis Chandler.

Recently armed with both shelf-stable creamy peanut butter and shelf-stable jams, it was largely moms who took this delicious new combo and ran with it. And Jif understood the assignment. They launched a campaign that would become a decades-long tagline for the peanut butter brand: choosy mothers choose jif. Though it was eventually criticized for promoting domestic gender tropes, no one can deny that the slogan was amongst the best-known brand slogans of its time, helping to cement Jif as a household name. 

Chocolate: the perfect pair

We owe another perfect peanut butter pairing to Reese’s. In the 1970’s, they launched an iconic commercial wherein a man is walking down the street with a chocolate bar, and a woman is walking down the street with her fingers in a jar of peanut butter. They bump into each other on a street corner, both wearing headphones. She says, “Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” and he says, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” Thus, a dynamic duo was born. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups went on to become not only Hershey’s best selling product, but also the best selling candy in the U.S. according to this Mashed article, The True Origin Story Of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Fun fact, Reese’s weren’t invented by Hershey’s and their history dates way back before the 1970’s – they were invented by a man named Harry Burnett Reese in the 1920s. 

Peanut butter advertising goes digital

One of the more memorable modern day peanut butter marketing moments came from Jif in 2020 and leveraged a viral internet debate: are the small animated image files that inundate our Slack channels pronounced Gif (hard G) or Jif. Spoiler alert: the campaign did little to clear up the conundrum but did succeed in getting people talking about peanut butter. 

“We’re teaming up with GIPHY to put a lid on this decade-long debate and prove there is only one Jif… it’s creamy, delicious peanut butter, not a looping picture you can send to make friends and family laugh,” said Rebecca Scheidler, vice president of Marketing of Jif. “So spread the word like Jif on bread — Jif is peanut butter, GIFs are animations!”

In 2023, a small peanut butter startup called Gary & Bary’s peanut butter launched an ad that went viral. The completely AI generated video ad featured a compilation of dogs, desirous look in their eyes, as they gaze up at the peanut butter on the counter – demonstrating how peanut butter is “Made for humans, desired by all.”