If you’ve ever brought a brown-bag lunch to school, you’ve no doubt enjoyed a Fluffernutter. Fluff, that gooey marshmallow treat, pairs perfectly with peanut butter—eat your heart out, jelly. But did you know that the makers of Fluff used content marketing to help put it on the map, long before content marketing was even a term?
Fluff was invented in 1917 in the kitchen of Archibald Query. Every year, Fluff lovers flock to Somerville, Massachusetts, the birthplace of Fluff, to celebrate its anniversary. The Fluff Festival brings in approximately 15,000 people each year, featuring performances, games, and of course, plenty of marshmallow-y treats. This weekend, they’ll be celebrating 100 years of Fluff—a FluffCentennial, if you will.
Everyone knows that when you put Fluff and peanut butter in a sandwich and wash it down with a cold glass of milk, you’ve got a little slice of Heaven. And why is this marshmallowy treat so beloved after 100 years? Because the fine folks at Fluff understood how to build a brand through entertaining content.
H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower purchased the recipe from Query and began manufacturing it themselves in 1920, according to the official history of Marshmallow Fluff. They initially called it “Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff” but eventually shortened it to “Marshmallow Fluff,” and the name stuck.
Like Query, the Durkee-Mower company initially sold Fluff door-to-door. By gaining a good reputation with local housewives, they were able to secure space in local grocery stores. By the late ’20s, Fluff advertisements were all over Boston-area newspapers. However, in order to take the next step, Durkee and Mower needed to take advantage of a fledgling technology: the radio.
During this time, radio was as popular in American households as television is today. Radio advertising was still relatively new, and corporations were still figuring out how to present these ads and engage the diverse group that tuned in every evening.
Instead of countless ads interrupting programming, advertisers would often fit their commercials in between programs—think Ovaltine and Little Orphan Annie from A Christmas Story. Comedian Red Skelton once joked that the longest word in the English language was the one that followed “and now a word from our sponsor.”
Durkee and Mower knew that they needed to take advantage of the growing radio market, but rather than wedging a commercial in between shows, Fluff made its own show, with entertaining content.
Image attribution: Ginny via Flickr
Starting in 1930, Fluff sponsored The Flufferettes, a variety show featuring music and comedy acts. It aired on the Yankee Network, which had 21 stations in the New England area. According to Hartford Radio History, the Flufferettes’ show was on at 6:45 on Sunday evenings, right before NBC’s popular Jack Benny program.
The Flufferettes themselves were the three Gallagher sisters—Rita, Mary, and Rosemary—backed by pianist Milton Brody, guitarist Perry Lipson, xylophonist Salvy Cavvichio, and announcers Vin Maloney and Eleanor Gay. In addition to the Flufferettes, the show included a wide variety of entertaining acts, including jazz musicians such as influential bass and banjo player Paul Clemente, who performed on the show before going on to founding the successful Paul Clemente Trio, according to the Jazz History Database.
The Flufferettes show also featured a 13-part comedy series, in which a fictional “Boston scholar” named Lowell Cabot Boswell shared revisionist history, putting his own humorous spin on events such as the Revolutionary War. In each episode, Boswell noted he had a very important book coming out, which listeners believed to be a historical text. However, it ended up being a Fluff cookbook: The Yummy Book features recipes for cakes and other sweets using Marshmallow Fluff, and it’s still available today.
The Flufferettes’ show lasted through the 1940s, and even helped to contribute to the Allied efforts in World War II by using advertising resources to promote the Navy. After the war, the operation expanded nationwide, thanks in part to the Flufferetes and content marketing.
The Durkee and Mower families still own and operate Fluff today, and the sweet treat is enjoyed all over the US, in addition to Canada, the UK, South Africa, France, and many other countries. The Fluffernutter, the glorious mashup of peanut butter and Fluff on white bread, is an iconic New England delicacy right alongside lobster, Moxie, and baked beans.
Today, brands have an incredible number of channels available for reaching audiences, but each one comes with its own challenges and advantages. While there may be more places to put ads than there were in the 1930s—streaming media, banner ads, emails, and regular old TV commercials—consumers have more choices as well, and they don’t have to watch, listen, or read if they don’t want to.
Today more than ever, audiences are tuning out interruptions from brands by DVRing programs to fast-forward through commercials, putting ad blockers on their browsers, and switching to ad-free streaming channels. Brands that want to engage audiences could learn a great lesson from Marshmallow Fluff: Entertain, don’t just interrupt.
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Featured image attribution: Mike Mozart