Chances are you’ve heard of Jack in the Box, even if it’s not located in a town or even a state near you. Located in just 21 states in the US, Jack in the Box was founded during the great fast food boom that occurred after World War II and is mostly a southwest United States eatery, but is known far and wide thanks to its sometimes controversial advertising campaigns and some not too great for business news stories from the 1990’s on. So join us as we delve into the underbelly of one of the United States most well known fast food joints to find the top ten Untold Truths of Jack in the Box.
10. The Name
Jack in the Box’s history starts with its founder, Robert Oscar Peterson, who owned several successful restaurants before he opened what would eventually become Jack in the Box. That restaurant was a drive-in named Topsy’s and was opened in San Diego in 1941. Topsy’s was also successful and was renamed “Oscars” after the middle name of its founder, and had a circus-like decor that heavily featured drawings of the circus and a circular headed clown with starry eyes. In 1951, thanks to some technological advances (that you’ll hear about next), the original Topsy’s was converted into the first Jack in the Box with that creepy/round-headed clown as it’s mascot. Those advancements helped the first Jack in the Box locations to really take off and by 1966 there were over 200 locations around the Southwest of the United States, showing that competition truly does create great things… Or at least, great fast food burgers… In the Southwest of the country.
9. Technological Advancements
The intro to this piece mentioned that Jack in the Box took off during the great fast food restaurant boom that occurred after World War II and a large part of that had to do with the drive thru systems that these restaurants employed to move away from the drive-in model that had become outdated thanks to the long wait times and inevitable damage that those heavy trays did to car windows (especially considering the fact that they weighed as much as the teenagers on roller skates who were delivering them to your gigantic Buick). It turns out that Jack in the Box has a lot to do with the growth of technology in the fast food arena as they were the first restaurant to utilize intercoms at drive-thru in the lower 48 states (after obtaining the rights to it from a restaurant named Chatterbox in Alaska). The owner of Jack in the Box, Robert Peterson, took the intercom system a step further to create a two-way intercom system that is still basically what restaurants use today (in some way, shape or form), minus the plastic clown that people used to have to speak into at the first hundred(s) Jack in the Box locations since talking at or into a clown is a nightmare for most normal people.
8. The Founder was a VERY Interesting Person
We’ve already touched on the founder of Jack in the Box as he was a pioneer and you could even say the founder of the intercom systems that fast food restaurants use, beyond that though Robert Oscar Peterson was a decorated soldier who fought in World War II, as a member of Naval Intelligence. He was also married four times, most notably to Maureen O’Connor, who was the first female mayor of San Diego in the mid-to-late 80’s to early 90’s. The most interesting footnote about him, though, was the fact that he was listed on former President Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List”, something that was odd because he was, in fact, a registered Republican. However, it appears that he made some donations to Democrats during the Nixon regime and that’s something that Nixon couldn’t tolerate. Luckily for everyone Nixon was busted for his involvement in Watergate and Peterson was left alone to continue creating delicious burgers. That does have to make you wonder how many people were on Nixon’s “enemies” list if someone as innocent as Peterson could make the list, granted his donations were relatively large, but considering his politics you’d have to think that Peterson was just unhappy with Nixon, not with the Republican party as a whole. Sound familiar?
7. When They Ditched the Clown
As this list (and basically everything, ever, prior to this list in human history) has shown, clowns are creepy. Fortunately, the people at Jack in the Box realized this (eventually) by the late 1970’s and decided to not only ditch the clown, “Jack” but also the decor of most if not all of it’s restaurants. Deciding that its circus decor gave the impression that they were a children’s restaurant (it took them two decades to figure that out?) they changed everything and started a marketing campaign that was geared towards the more “Premium Fare” that Jack in the Box was introducing at its locations. Their TV commercials were quite literal in that they showed store employees blowing up “Jack” while drive-thru customers yelled “Waste him!”. Now, we all think clowns are creepy but even we feel back for Jack at this point… Luckily…
6. Jack’s Back
After a few missteps, which we’ll get into, Jack in the Box’s reputation was at an all-time low in the early 1990’s. That’s when, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Jack returned from obscurity to not only re-brand Jack in the Box but also to seemingly “kill” the former brand of Jack in the Box (the brand that took over after they “wasted” him in the early 1980’s). While it’s a pretty simple strategy, from a marketing standpoint, it worked as it basically was an admission by the people at Jack in the Box (or the people that were STILL at Jack in the Box) that they had made mistakes while playfully alluding to that fact while also implying that they were going to go back to the way things were before the controversies, a simpler time that a lot of the then adults remember. That time was the late 1970’s (and before) when the adults of the 90’s were children and when everything seemed magical, even a creepy clown. Luckily for us, they used the “miracle of plastic surgery” to convert Jack into a humanoid clown, one that was more yuppy than serial killing nightmare fuel.
5. Jack Didn’t Stop with the Board
After Jack returned by basically murdering the entire “board” (or the public perception of what Jack in the Box was during the whole E. Coli fiasco) he didn’t stop there as he went out, in a time that Twitter didn’t exist and most people were using dial-up to get onto AOL on Friday nights to chat about sports, to the community to basically attack those who had been calling Jack in the Box “Junk in the Box”. The commercials were supposed to convey that Jack in the Box was working hard to make good food again, but it does seem a bit aggressive even coming a YouTube channel that likes stuff like that, mainly because it didn’t highlight the fact that it had different or new food, only that it’s employees had been working their “buns” off to make food (which is something all fast food places can say). However, in a day and age of PC culture taking things too far, it is fun to see a commercial that goes the distance and perhaps doesn’t make it super surprising that Jack in the Box is in the middle of a controversy over a new commercial right now in 2018! Sidenote, we get that they were making light of the television show COPS, but it just seemed more angry than transformationally angry, and that must’ve been the original goal… Then again, this was 1997 and we were 12 back then so, we’ll take your word for it.
4. The Current Controversy
While we did feel like the aforementioned commercial took things a bit too far, there is the other end of the spectrum where they didn’t but people think they did, something that defines the world we live in today in 2018. Jack in the Box released a new commercial highlighting their Teriyaki “Bowls” and decided that because Bowls sound like the word “Balls” and because “Balls” are a word people use for testicles, that they’d really run with that concept. Now, we’re not defending the commercial from either a comedy or marketing standpoint (although the fact that we’re talking about it means that it really did it’s job, in spades), but rather the lazy “outrage” that people have about it in the so-called “#MeTooEra. We don’t wade into political stuff on this channel, because that stuff is everywhere and we’re sure you’re here for a few minutes of respite, however, this stuff always boils down to intent and the intention here was comedy and exposure (as in, brand exposure, not the other kind of exposure) not malice or misogyny. Regardless, the ad is being called the most “tone deaf” in the MeToo era and thankfully Jack int he Box hasn’t apologized or pulled the ad but released a statement explaining their intention behind the ad (and all of their ads, to boot). Well done, Jack in the Box, well done… It wouldn’t be too horrible to see Jack take down some of these haters, as well.
3. Jack has Quite the Backstory
So far we’ve learned that Jack in the Box has a history that includes being on the “enemies list” of Richard Nixon back during those dark days of American politics to being on the enemies list of those on Twitter that spend their free time creating such lists. However, it turns out that Jack, the brand ambassador for Jack in the Box, has a much more detailed and complex history than most of us have ever understood. Over the course of over 2,000 television commercials across both the english and spanish languages, people have learned that jack has a wife whose name is “cricket”, and together the two have a son named Jack Junior. Jack also has a hick cousin that lives in Philadelphia and rocks a mullet, for some reason (because Jack in the Box is mostly on the West Coast and Philadelphia is most definitely not on the West Coast). Jack is said to be, by Jack in the Box’s website to be 6 foot 8 (without his hat/crown). He also has a birthdate, which is May 16th, and he can speak multiple languages including the previously mentioned English and Spanish as well as Mandarin (which might mean that Jack in the Box has plans to expand into China). Jack also ran for President back in 1996 during the Bill Clinton and Bob Dole campaigns, with slogans like “Don’t Blame me I voted for Jack” being sold on shirts and bumper stickers. Jack in the Box also wanted to test how popular Jack was back in 2009 so they had him get hit by a bus in one of their commercials, waiting to see how fans reacted before bringing him back. Considering the current controversy that surrounds his latest commercial, it seems that they must’ve called and emailed enough to bring him back from the edge of death. Take that, Dos Equis, it turns out that Jack is the most interesting man in the world.
2. Who is Jack?
Since 1995 Jack has been voiced by one man, whose name is Richard “Dick” Sittig and unlike most voice over artists who lend their voices to the face of billion-dollar companies, Sittig also closely guards and shapes the commercials that Jack appears in, making him the most hands-on pitchman in the game. Sittig started during the “Jack is Back” era of Jack in the Box commercials and was largely responsible for those ads, so he started his own advertising agency, titled the Secret Weapon Marketing agency, whose main client is, you guessed it, Jack in the Box. Sittig has been largely responsible for the “irreverent humor” that the ads employ, including the most recent ad that focused on the size of Jack’s “Bowls”. Those ads have led to explosive growth for Jack in the Box, especially among young men, something Sittig has discussed. In an interview with LA Times, Sittig said: “If our target was a 75-year-old woman, we’d be a Hallmark Card.” Sittig has also compared Jack to our current President, Donald Trump, saying that the “intimidating CEO” aspect of his persona is intentional and based on Trump or Richard Branson. Hopefully, that’ll keep both Sittig and Jack off of Trump’s “enemies list”.
1. The E. Coli Situation
Outside of mostly pointless “controversies” about their marketing, Jack in the Box has dealt with real controversies over the years including one in the 80’s that found that some mislabeled kangaroo meat was being sent to Jack in the Box instead of to a restaurant in Australia. The largest controversy in the countries history happened in 1993 and was responsible for the “Jack is Back” ads, and that controversy actually ended up taking a few peoples lives. In 1993 four children died of hemolytic uremic syndrome after contracting E. Coli from undercooked meat patties that were contaminated with fecal matter at a location in Tacoma, Washington (and other parts of the Pacific Northwest). That lead to a bunch of lawsuits that were quickly settled and almost lead to the bankruptcy of Jack in the Box as they lost a ton of business because of the bad press they received, as well. The discrepancy that led to the E Coli outbreak was actually based on FDA requirements, which were that hamburger meat was to be cooked to 140 degrees internally (whereas Washington state law required a temperature of 155 degrees, which is the lowest temperature that kills E Coli bacteria). Because of their multi-state operate, the Tacoma locations served burgers cooked to FDA levels, not Washington State levels, and the rest is sad, sad history. The positive note is that Jack in the Box changed it’s requirements to 155 degrees after the incident, but Jack in the Box took things a step or two further by working with food safety experts from manufacturing companies to test every product in their restaurant for bacteria.