The Keebler elves are among the most recognizable advertising icons in the food industry. The Keebler company has embraced the elves as its company icon, but the survival of the elves was not always certain. Although they were almost lost to history, the elves have endured the ups and downs of their parent company.
Keebler began with a single bakery in 1853. Godfrey Keebler opened the bakery that bore his name in Philadelphia. Gradually, Keebler expanded the distribution of his products and formed ties with other bakeries in other locations. In 1927, when his group included 16 businesses, the bakeries came together in the United Biscuit Company of America. The bakeries were under the control of one company. However, each continued to market its individual products under the name of the local bakery.
The Keebler Name
The United Biscuit Company of America updated its corporate structure throughout the first years of the 1960s. The bakeries adopted one brand name for their products in 1966. The corporation hoped to establish national recognition for its products. The name that it chose for its brand was Keebler.
Made by Elves
The newly unified company needed an image to promote its products and tie them together. In 1969, Leo Burnett devised Keebler's signature characters -- the elves. J.J. Keebler and Ollie Keebler each had a brief stint as head elf. In 1970, Ernie Keebler became the head Keebler elf. Inside the Hollow Tree in Sylvan Glen, he directs the other elves in baking "uncommonly good" cookies. Different Keebler products and advertising campaigns have given rise to a host of other defined elf characters with their own abilities and personalities.
United Biscuit Company
The United Biscuit Company, based in the United Kingdom, bought out the United Biscuit company of America in 1974. The new owners redirected the company toward snack production that strayed from its bakery origins. As Keebler moved away from the cookies that it made so well, it lost market share to other companies, most notably Nabisco. The Keebler brand began to lose money. The Keebler Corporation split from the United Biscuit Company in 1996 as a result of a leveraged buyout.
Bringing Back the Elves
The newly independent company was in need of a corporate image, just as it had been when it first unified. Under the leadership of Sam Reed and David Vermylen, Keebler expanded its product line and adopted icons from its history. Ernie Keebler again became the spokesman for Keebler, supervising the elves inside the Hollow Tree. The tree and the elves became the symbols of the Keebler Corporation. The company was acquired by Kellogg in 2001, but the elves remained an important part of Keebler marketing. In 2003, Keebler employees marked the brand's 150th anniversary with a 150-pound cookie that celebrated the company and its elves.