Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Inventor of Pez "Character Dispensers" Has Died

Curtis Allina didn't invent the Pez candy itself, or even the rectangular dispenser that holds the candy. But he is credited with the idea of putting a plastic face on top, preferably the face of a cartoon character that would instantly be recognized by kids. Pez was an "austerely packaged" adult candy from Austria that "sold fitfully" in the United States in the 1950s before this innovation, I learned today from his New York Times obit. (You can read the more complicated story therein by clicking HERE.) But this change popularized Pez as a children's candy and dramatically increased sales. (I never liked the stuff myself. To me it tasted, I now think on hindsight, pretty much exactly like the austerely packaged adult candy from Austria that it really was.)

While I'm American, I've lived in Europe and Asia as well over the last 10 years. I'd bristle silently when I'd hear western Europeans assert pleasantly in conversation that Americans are very good at "selling things." I've heard that a lot over the years. It's really a left-handed compliment that implies our products, innovations and culture are actually very second rate, but that they become popular worldwide nonetheless because of a supposed national expertise in marketing. I suppose I must concede that the Pez dispenser is a shining example of that alleged American marketing prowess, albeit as applied to a very second rate European product.

The NBC Nightly News did a 30 second obit on Mr. Allina last night that I've embedded below.

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