The world just hasn't been the same since Superman stopped making peanut butter. I can't say for sure when the sandwich spread first debuted; it was certainly around when I was a kid, and it probably dates back as early as 1977 or so. It's really a tribute to our own mental associations more than anything else, as kids who ate the crud would've sworn on a stack of holy water-drenched bibles that it was...honestly...better than any other peanut butter. "Creamy" Superman Peanut Butter was better than "Creamy" Jif, "Krunchy" Superman Peanut Butter was better than "Crunchy" Peter Pan. Was there any truth in those notions? Who cares?! The jar had Superman on it!
Shown above is the real deal -- an honest to goodness jar of Superman's peanut butter, safely kept intact for all of these years. Well, it certainly looks prettier in a Superman jar than it usually does. I think the producers of this stuff found a way to safely false advertise without any fear of a lawsuit. When you eat something that's allegedly coming from Superman, you're going to think it's good for you and capable of making you stronger and better now matter how much the nutritional label dictates otherwise. If you attach that "Superman" moniker to anything, absolutely anything, chances are good that the rest of us are going to fall for it every time. So, even while peanut butter slides under the radar as one of those edibles it's okay to eat even though it's pretty gosh damneneables awful for you, Superman's version seemed all the more virtuous. This stuff wasn't just peanut butter that was okay to eat -- it was peanut butter that'd give us barrel chests, the ability of flight, and numerous duplicates of the same red n' blue costume because there's just no way the real Superman could've kept the same suit clean doing all the wacky shit he did. Superman may have super powers, but the ability to magically keep his clothes clean was never even passingly noted in any comic, cartoon or movie script. And that be true.
I know what you're thinking. You think I just filled up an old, empty jar of Superman Peanut Butter with some new crap. It's not, I swear! Real S-P-B! I had to heat it and stir it for a good while to get it back to anything remotely approximating "peanut butter," but when all was said and done, it was like time stood still in that glass jar. I couldn't bring myself to taste the four century old Kryptonian hypno-butter, but it smelled just fine and glowed with the sheen of a thousand nobly waxed wood floors.
"Nobly waxed wood floors." There exists only one man capable of saying such words three times fast. Superman.
Through the years, there's been several different interpretations of Superman Peanut Butter. The campaign was fairly direct at first, with the "Superman" part being an almost unmentioned little bonus for anyone willing to try new brands of peanut butter. Later, the hero himself took on a more prominent role, perhaps rightfully insinuating that those who would buy his peanut butter did so because it was his...not because it was just a cool new peanut butter. Down the line, as DC Comics gained extra notoriety with a few different cartoon shows, the Superman looked less like a classic comic character and more like a guy you'd watch on Saturday mornings. The differences with very minute, most notably in the chin -- but trust me, they existed.
Still, it's hard to argue that this wasn't an ingenious idea. If you think about it, peanut butter is a woefully difficult thing to advertise properly. There's zillions of people who eat peanut butter, but once we pass age six, there's very few people who'll openly talk about it. There's even people who'd deny eating peanut butter even if they had their tongue scraping the jar bottoms on every weekday. For this reason, P-B producers are limited to promoting towards just two demographics: really little kids, and mothers so crazy ass obsessed with doing every little thing right that they'll put themselves through a mental breakdown just to make sure they've chosen the right peanut butter for their children. This is almost a universal rule...but it never applied to Superman's slop.
Superman Peanut Butter could be advertised to people of all ages, creeds, colors, genders, species, castes. It wasn't even limited to television spots -- they had an open invitation to slap their ads all over Superman's comic books, not to mention every other DC title. They had sci-fi magazines, horror rags...you name it, Superman found his way in. Did this impact sales? Hard to say, but one thing's for sure: if someone wasn't eating Superman Peanut Butter, it definitely wasn't because they hadn't heard of it.
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"Its strength is its great taste" was the product's most typical tagline. Those six words convey power of such a magnitude, I'm surprised my head didn't explode by merely repeating them. If I were to say "its strength is its great taste" into a mirror five times, I bet the Candyman and Bloody Mary would appear and start crying because holy shit am I stoned. Sorry, I needed a way out of that paragraph.
I've located two different commercial spots for Superman's p-b -- one's from '82, the other looks a little older. The tagline is the only thing similar between the two -- they took very much separate advertising routes, though both are pretty hilarious. While the second is a more obvious animated spot, the first challenges all who believed that a live action Superman couldn't or wouldn't appear in a peanut butter commercial. It happened, and it was unreal.
Dad's doing the grocery shopping, flanked by a terrible daughter whom he couldn't possibly love. Really -- just an awful, despicable little child. As soon as they exit the supermarket, the daughter informs Daddy that "they forgot the peanut butter." Yeah, good going, you bitch. Tell him after you've left the store. Like there's a parent in America who'd actually go back into a supermarket after spending seventeen hours arguing against buying three different boxes of marshmallow cereal because they forgot the damn peanut butter. I believe they call it "adolescent desired conflict." It's when a kid makes a startlingly inappropriate or impossible to carry out request just to inspire a fight with one of their parents. A "reason to cry," if you will. Honey, Dad just spent ninety fucking minutes buying you fruit snacks and 5+ diapers so your friends at school would stop making fun of you. He ain't going into that Sawyer house twice.
Still, that whole "no peanut butter" thing is a big issue. Remember, this commercial was shot in 1978 or something -- peanut butter was pretty much all the grocery stores sold. Peanut butter, bread, and plastic knives to spread peanut butter on the bread. That idiot father somehow skipped over 33.3333333% of the store's entire inventory. Like murder case witness #southern sassy in "My Cousin Vinny," methinks Dad needs to be investing in some thicker glasses.
Just as Dad's about to drink the peanut butterless sorrows away with the best of the blood of the fruit of his loins, who would appear but Superman himself. We never get to clearly see his face -- either the result of hiring a really bad looking actor or because the camera direction for this ad spot was incredibly bad. In any case, he's there to save the day. Crime must've been real slow in Metropolis.
After delivering his peanut butter, Superman flies off towards new adventures. Dad and daughter are happily reunited, no longer suffering the relationship strains that come along with not having any peanut butter. Superman can carve a new notch on his dashboard -- he's saved another day.
I'm not sure who played Superman in the ad, but the voice was eerily similar to that of one Brian Doyle Murray, and while that'll sound weird if you know who he is, it's the only thing I can compare it to. So, we pretty much got a faceless "Superman" who sounded like the guy who rapped about Noah's Arcade. There's companies that make concessions to the people, and others who just throw us some scraps. The producers of Superman Peanut Butter fall into the latter category. We only received half of a Superman. The half that couldn't have staring contests or serve as a board in Face Darts. The back half. The half nobody wanted.
But! The back half of Superman was way more than Jif ever gave us. Wins by proxy are still wins. Or is that wins by default? How about just plain old "wins?" Yeah. Wins. Like when Shang Tsung steals a soul.
Here's a beaut from 1982. Lex Luthor has trapped our hero in a prison cell, draining his strength with a lump of Kryptonite stationed nearby. It's essentially Lex's opus achievement in his ongoing war with Superman -- he's finally got the guy right where he wants him. Instead of using this position for something great, Lex just wants to know why Superman's peanut butter tastes so good. Seriously -- that's what he's trying to mindfuck outta the Son of Krypton. Peanut butter ingredients. I can picture Thanos, throwing down and stomping on the Gauntlet, screaming in frustration because what's the point of being a supervillain if the noticed top draws do so many idiotic things? Why fight to be the best of the bad if the best of the bad are just a bunch of clowns? Why bother?
Through some as of yet undetermined force of nature, things actually get worse. Not getting the answers he's looking for, Lex instead decides to simply mock Superman. How? By spreading his peanut butter on crackers and rubbing his tummy. It's even worse when you remember that Lex is a fictional character who doesn't receive royalties. He's making a fool of himself and he's not even getting paid for it.
Look closely at that first pic up there, and you might notice a few children watching the action from a conveniently placed prison window. Gets real dank down there. While Lex has his back turned, the kids fashion an incredible trapper out of an amazingly huge rope they just found laying around, and use the thing to fetch the pile of Kryptonite away from Superman. Now that his power has been restored, Superman's free to break the prison bars and teach Lex a lesson.
Once that's over with, all of the non-villains celebrate with peanut butter sandwiches. Where did that bread come from? I hate mystery bread. Follow the link below to watch the story unfold for yourself. Its strength is in WMV format, around 1 MB...
Somewhere along the way, "Superman Peanut Butter" just disappeared. It was the Choco-Dile of the sandwich spread aisle. Sadly, it was also one of those things we didn't really appreciate until it was too late. I never realized just how important Superman's p-b was to me till I could no longer have it without risking death by eating the remnants leftover in that twenty-year-old jar pictured earlier. Now it's just another memory, incapable of gluing tongues to the roofs of mouths, and indescribable for all who were born too late to eat it. It sucks when peanut butter dies.
If "great taste" was the peanut butter's strength, we can safely assume that great taste isn't enough to keep a product on the shelves forever. Even Superman's chiseled face stamped on each jar wasn't enough. What did Jif do differently? When we answer that, we learn the secrets of vitality. When we choose Jif, what are we choosing? Ponder that, but only after checking out some of Superman's other foodstuffs...
Superman had a line of hot cocoa mix, vitamins, and even a collection of pretzels shaped like his chest emblem. Only the vitamins and pretzels were enriched with iron. The cocoa just tasted chocolatey.
Strangely enough, there was a time when anyone could've survived only by ingesting products with Superman's name attached. You had vitamins, peanut butter, cocoa and pretzels. It's probably more balanced than what a lot of us eat, and it gave us a reason to convert throw blankets into capes. That's all we really ever asked for.
- Matt (11/25/03)