Little Mikey was a young fictional boy (played by John Gilchrist) in an American television commercial promoting Quaker Oats' breakfast cereal Life. The ad, created by art director Bob Gage (who also directed the commercial) and copywriter Edyth Vaughn "Edie" Stevenson of the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency, first aired in 1972. The popular ad campaign, featuring Mikey, remained in regular rotation for more than 12 years and ended up as one of the longest continuously running commercial campaigns ever aired.
The iconic commercial centers on three brothers eating breakfast. Before them sits a heaping bowl of Life breakfast cereal. Two of the brothers question each other about the cereal, prodding each other to try it, and noting that it is supposed to be healthy. Neither wants to try it ("I'm not gonna try it—you try it!"), so they get their brother Mikey to try it ("Let's get Mikey"), noting, "he hates everything". Mikey briefly stares at the bowl. After moments of contemplation, he begins to vigorously consume the cereal before him, resulting in his brothers excitedly exclaiming, "He likes it! Hey, Mikey!" Mikey's brothers in the commercial are Gilchrist's actual brothers, named Michael (the one on the left in the spot) and Tommy. John is the middle child of seven children born to Tom and Pat Gilchrist of the Bronx.
The advertisement was very popular and won a Clio Award in 1974. It was also often referenced in retrospectives of classic television advertisements. For example, in 1999, TV Guide ranked it the #10 commercial of all time. Despite the commercial's age, a 1999 survey noted that 70% of adults could identify the spot based on just a "brief generic description."
A series of "Today's Mikey" ads aired in the mid-1980s, with Gilchrist reprising the character as a college student.
In 1996, Quaker Oats commissioned director Rick Schulze, of Industrial Light & Magic Commercial Productions, to digitally composite a bottle of Snapple, then a subsidiary of Quaker Oats, into the original Life ad, via longtime Snapple ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York. This time, however, in an ironic twist, Mikey likes some of the product's flavors while disliking the others.
Life's ad agency, Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago, revived the Mikey character for two campaigns in the late 1990s. In 1997, Quaker Oats initiated a nationwide search for the "next Mikey", settling on 4-year-old Marli Hughes out of more than 35,000 applicants. She also appeared in a TV commercial, "Better Life" directed by Howard Rose, where she is seen telling her classmates how she won the contest and traveled to New York to do some TV shows. She adds that as the new Mikey she gets to eat as much Life cereal as she wants.
A few years after the original commercial appeared, an urban legend spread that the actor who had played Little Mikey had died after eating an unexpectedly lethal combination of Pop Rocks (a type of carbonated hard candy) and a carbonated soft drink, which caused his stomach to inflate with carbon dioxide. A Mythbusters exploration of the legend in detail confirmed the story, adding that the show had tried to contact John Gilchrist, but he did not return their calls. The legend is not true; Gilchrist is a director of media sales at New York’s MSG Network. The human stomach is too elastic to rupture or explode from consuming such excesses of carbonated foods or beverages.
In popular culture
- This commercial can been seen on one of four TV screens shown at the end of the film Network (1976).
- In the film The Matrix (1999), the protagonist Neo is undergoing training simulations. After he receives his first upload of combat training, Tank paraphrases the famous line from the commercial, saying, "Hey, Mikey, I think he likes it".
- In the film Urban Legend (1999), the story of little Mikey dying from consuming Pop Rocks and Coke is brought up and discussed by the class.
- In Shrek The Musical (2008-2010), one of the main characters, Donkey, sings a song "Don't Let Me Go". In the song, he is begging another character not to leave him and starts naming things that go together. He sings, "like Cupid and Psyche, like Pop Rocks and Mikey!"
- A 1991 promo for CBS This Morning parodied the commercial.
- In the 1980s-based TV show The Goldbergs (ABC, 2013) Barry thinks he is saving his sister Erica's life when he prevents her from drinking cola with Pop Rocks. Both brothers Adam and Barry explain to Erica about "Mikey from Life Cereal". Erica refuses to listen, then their grandfather intervenes, exclaiming, "What are you, crazy? Mikey gave his life so that would not happen again."
- Nick Ravo (2000-04-08). "Robert Gage, 78, Art Director; Had a Role in Well-Known Ads". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- Slotnik, Daniel E. (December 16, 2011). "Edie Stevenson, 81; Wrote 'Let's Get Mikey' Ad". The New York Times. p. A32.
- Spitznagel,Eric. "Mikey: An Investigation". Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.
- "Press release". Quaker Oats. January 2000.
- "Mikey Life Cereal actor: John Gilchrist". Orlando Sentinel. December 9, 1986.
- "The 50 Greatest Commercials of All Time". TV Guide. July 3, 1999.
- Forbes Consulting Group (August 1999). Strategic Equity Assessment for Life Cereal.
- Chris Nashawaty (1996-04-09). "Coming Back to Life". Entertainment Weekly (323). Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- "Life Cereal Brand History". Quaker Oats.
- Scott Hume (1998-01-19). "Hey Mikey! Meet Marli". Adweek. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- "Transcript". CNN. January 17, 2000.
- "Remember Mikey? He's back". Associated Press. 2000-01-23. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- "John Gilchrist, who palyed Mikey in Life cereal commercial, still likes it after all these years". Newsday.
- Best, Neal (November 22, 2012). "John Gilchrist, who played "Mikey" in TV ad, still likes it after all these years". Newsday. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- "Parody". CBS This Morning. 1991.
- John Gilchrist Jr. at the Internet Movie Database
- The commercial can be seen here on YouTube.
- Discovery Channel's Mythbusters video busting the myth.