Logo big or go home: One of the first brands to sell sliced bread, Wonder has a story as colorful as its bag

A century ago, a bakery executive saw hundreds of hot air balloons in the skies over Indianapolis. His awe led to Wonder Bread’s name and logo.
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Wonder Bread

· 4 min read

These logos are imprinted in our minds. This series examines where they came from and why they work.

Brand: Wonder Bread

Designer: Drew Miller

Year: 1921

Bread on arrival: In 1921, Indianapolis’s Taggart Baking Company had something big cooking.

Taggart was going to introduce a new recipe for white bread, and unlike commercial bakeries that typically sold one-pound loaves, its loaf would be a pound and a half. The company planned to launch a new brand around this loaf—but hadn’t come up with a name.

Enter Elmer Cline, deputy manager of merchandising development at Taggart. Cline had attended a hot-air balloon race at the Indianapolis Speedway, and seeing those colorful balloons overhead, he was awestruck by the “wonder,” as Wonder Bread puts it on its website.

Having settled on Wonder Bread, Taggart hired Drew Miller, a Chicago commercial artist, to design the logo. Against a white background, Miller added red, blue, and yellow circles, some overlapping, to represent balloons.

Wonder Bread launched on May 21, 1921. In 1925, Continental Baking Company purchased Taggart and set about its plan to make Wonder Bread a national brand.

Why it works: Mary Zalla, global president of consumer brands at Landor & Fitch, noted that when Wonder Bread was introduced, store-bought bread was still somewhat novel, making the brand name more descriptive than it may seem today.

“The wonder was that you didn’t have to bake your own bread anymore,” Zalla told us. “It was going to come to you prepackaged.”

She thinks the logo strikes a festive note.

“It’s got that red, blue, yellow—the primary colors,” Zalla said. “It looks like a county fair.”

Flour power: Introduced only nine years after the first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in Memphis in 1916, Wonder Bread, with its eye-popping logo, was ready to grow along  with the fledgling bread aisle.

In 1930, just two years after Missourian Otto Rohwedder invented the bread-slicing machine, Wonder was one of the first bread brands to be sold sliced.

Its original white bread may not be a favorite with nutritionists these days, recently topping a list on Eat This, Not That, of “12 Worst Breads to Stay Away From Right Now.”

But in its earlier days, it was marketed as health food. In the 1940s, after it became part of a government initiative to enrich bread with vitamins and minerals, Wonder adopted the slogan, “Builds Strong Bodies 8 Ways,” and, later, stepped it up to “Builds Strong Bodies 12 Ways.” (According to the Wonder Bread Cookbook, the initial eight benefits it claimed were for “muscles, bones and teeth, body cells, blood, appetite, growth, brain, and energy”; the additional four were “red cells, vitamin B12, protein digestion, and tissue respiration.”)

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But in 1971, Ralph Nader testified before the Federal Trade Commission that Wonder’s nutritional claims constituted false advertising, and the FTC agreed, ruling against Wonder in 1973.

The advertising scholar Jef Richards, meanwhile, has said that advertising is the essence of the brand—and vice versa.

“Advertising,” Richards wrote, “is the ‘wonder’ in Wonder Bread.”

Unpaid placement: Perhaps the best advertising the brand has had in this century was free.

For the 2006 Will Ferrell auto-racing comedy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Interstate Bakeries Corp., then-owner of Wonder and in bankruptcy, struck a deal with Sony Pictures. In what must have seemed like a too-good-to-be-true scenario, Sony didn’t want money, just permission to have Wonder be the principal sponsor for Ferrell’s fictional NASCAR driver, Ricky Bobby, meaning the logo would be emblazoned on his car, helmet, and uniform.

Citing research from sponsorship-measurement firm Joyce Julius & Associates, Advertising Age reported that the logo was in clear focus for 11 minutes and 32 seconds of the film, exposure that the firm valued at roughly $4.3 million.

“Ricky Bobby appears to be OK,” an announcer says after a serious crash in one scene, “but that Wonder Bread car is toast.”

Five years later, so would Wonder itself.

Rising again: In 2012, Hostess Brands, which owned Wonder, went bankrupt and ceased production of all its brands.

For nearly a year, consumers who favored Wonder for their Fluffernutters were out of luck, until Flowers Foods bought the brand from Hostess and resurrected it.

Flowers Foods also ended up owning a Wonder Bread asset built in 2001, to mark the brand’s 80th anniversary. It’s a hot-air balloon, an homage to what inspired Cline to come up with the brand’s name.

It’s in a YouTube video from the 2015 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. There it is, rising in the sky, its logo a balloon among balloons, itself a balloon among balloons.

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