George Lois: How I Tricked Aunt Jemima Into Making Syrup

A legendary adman pulls a fast one

If you missed NPR's interview yesterday with legendary adman George Lois about his new book, Damn Good Advice, it's worth going back and giving it a listen. The highlight for me was hearing the tale of how Lois (in his version of the story, at least) single-handedly invented Aunt Jemima syrup. It's one of those advertising yarns you'd expect to have heard a million times over, and possibly you have, but it was new to me. When Lois was working the Aunt Jemima account, the Quaker-owned brand was known for pancake mix but didn't make a syrup. "I said to them, 'How come you guys don't have a syrup? You own the pancake business,' " Lois recounts in the NPR interview. "And they said, 'Well, that's not our business,' and they came up with 12 reasons why they don't have it." Not getting any traction after months of pressing the issue, Lois decided to drop the idea into a consumer survey about pancake habits. "The last question in this questionnaire about pancakes listed a bunch of syrups, and I included the words 'Aunt Jemima syrup,' and I said, 'Which of these syrups have you bought in the past year?' And something like 90 percent of the people circled that they had bought Aunt Jemima syrup, which was nonexistent. … I showed them my research and said '90 percent of Americans believe they are already buying Aunt Jemima syrup. Would you please make Aunt Jemima syrup?' And of course they created the syrup, and they became the leading syrup brand in the world in two days." Just goes to show, there's no limit to what creativity can accomplish when you add in some pestering and unsolicited advice. Photo: Phaidon Press.