Early Advertising and a Babe Ruth Ice Cream Party Kicked Off Fro-Joy Campaigns
Fro-Joy’s Celebrity Endorsers Helped Generate Interest Prior to the Launch of Card Promotions
Fro-Joy is mostly known for two sets of sports cards. You can read more about them here, but in short, they offered a set of cards honoring boxing champion Gene Tunney in 1927 and another set of Babe Ruth in 1928. While the Ruth cards are much more valuable today, the set of Tunney cards was arguably the more important set at the time due to boxing’s popularity in the 1920s.
The Fro-Joy sets were only given away for one week during the summers of 1927 and 1928. There were six in each set but a collector could only get one card on a given day. Meaning that if you wanted an entire set, you had to trade duplicates with friends, buy the ice cream every day, or find a way to buy them after the promotion. That they were only offered for one day and were printed more than 90 years ago explains their rarity.
Given that they were offered for only a week, Fro-Joy had to do a lot to spread the word and generate interest in advance.
About Fro-Joy Products
So what was Fro-Joy?
The name was actually a shortened version of Frozen Joy. Fro-Joy was a little unique in that they created both ice cream and ice cream cones. And while Fro-Joy was the name of the ice cream brand, the actual company producing it was called the General Ice Cream Corporation. That business was hardly a localized one as they had a total of 32 plants spread out in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.
While it was an ice cream product, their big selling point was as a nutritional product. Ads called a ‘perfectly balanced, healthful food’ and also touted things called ‘Youth Units.’ According to the company, those had the ability to rebuild human cells, and prolong youthful vigor and beauty.
Naturally, they said Fro-Joy had more of those Youth Units than would be found in other foods.
Gene Tunney Trains with Fro-Joy Ice Cream
The earliest mention of Fro-Joy and their first endorser, Gene Tunney, that I have seen is from the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin.
On June 21, 1927, the newspaper ran an article picturing Tunney eating the ice cream at a training location. As the rest of their ads did, this one pointed to the product being full of nutritional value. While it was under the guise of being an actual article, it was likely a paid advertisement.
The ad actually began by citing former boxing champion James Corbett’s use of ice cream in his diet during training and then discussed Tunney using the project as well. Corbett’s last fight was in 1903 and had he still been an active fighter, he would have been an ideal endorser. But as world champion, Tunney was just fine and was immensely popular at the time.
In the ad, Tunney was pictured eating the product while an article/interview ran below. Tunney was said in the article to have ordered a gallon of Fro-Joy ice cream daily for his training and also for his staff. The article built up the nutritional value of ice cream and dairy products and then became a little more direct, focusing on Fro-Joy.
Tunney went on to explain himself and the diet.
“Ice cream is a part of my daily diet at all times. I’ve got to keep in good condition all the time whether preparing for a battle or not. I must watch my diet. I must eat those things which are good for me, which are easily digested and which build muscle and strength. Fro-Joy ice cream, according to my belief, does these things, and besides I eat it because I like it.”
The ad was run in various papers in areas where Fro-Joy operated, giving the idea that the ice cream was not only nutritional but also needed by children to grow up healthy and strong.
Following the ads, Fro-Joy ran another series of ads in their operating areas the week before the promotion. Interestingly enough, the promotion was actually centered around receiving a 9″ x 12″ photo of Tunney and not really the cards themselves. Once collectors received all six cards, they could trade them in (and receive them back) for the Tunney photograph. Instead of focusing on the cards, the ads touted the following headline, “Free! — Gene Tunney’s Picture!!”
Tunney’s endorsement deal even extended beyond the Fro-Joy week where his cards were issued. We know that because additional ads featuring Tunney also ran later that summer after the promotion ended. Those ads did not mention Tunney’s cards but continued to tout the nutritional value of the product.
A Babe Ruth Ice Cream Party
The following year, Fro-Joy replaced Tunney with legendary baseball player Babe Ruth and, similarly, did some advertising in advance. His cards looked like the Tunney cards, only without the replica signature. As I’ve theorized before, that possibly could have been to increase the value of the photograph, which had his autograph on it. But instead of merely having Ruth participate in a sterile ‘interview’ for an advertisement, the company tried a different strategy in taking the product directly to the public.
After all, what better way to really create a link between Ruth and the product than to have kids meet him?
Thus, Fro-Joy advertised an ice cream party hosted by Ruth on July 23, shortly before his card promotion kicked off. Interestingly, the party was at a baseball stadium but not it wasn’t Yankee Stadium. Instead, the party was held at Fenway Park. So why Boston instead of New York?
One can’t say for sure but it possibly was a timing issue. The Ruth card promotion started on Friday August 3, 1928 and Ruth’s Yankees had just wrapped up a homestand on Sunday, July 22. With the club traveling for a road trip on the 22nd, a party that day probably wasn’t possible. And they also probably wanted to make sure not to have the party too early in advance. By waiting until Monday, August 23, it would have been in the week preceding the card promotion.
And with Ruth being a former member of the Red Sox, him hosting the party in Boston would have been a big deal as well. But one can’t say for sure and, heck, it may have even been a simple matter of logistics if Fro-Joy ice cream was easier to get to Fenway as opposed to Yankee Stadium.
Regardless, Ruth ultimately threw an ice cream party for 1,000 children at the Yankees-Red Sox game. The makeup of the attendees varies a little. Some accounts state they were all orphans while others say some were. But Ruth invited them (six years and older) to the grandstand area of the park and then gave them Fro-Joy ice cream. Here is the critical type from the ads, which ran in several publications:
The Babe is giving a party. With his well-known love of youngsters, he has invited these 1,000 potential ball players, from 6 years old up, to be his grandstand guests on Monday afternoon. Fro-Joy ice cream and Fro-Joy cones have been ordered for the whole outfit. Twenty girls from the “Good News” company will help the Babe serve the refreshments. Olsen’s jazz orchestra will play and everyone ought to have a good time.
Just as they had done for Tunney, the company then ran ads prior to the distribution of the Ruth cards. And like before, the highlight was primarily the chance to earn a 9″ x 12″ photo of Ruth by showing proof of having all six cards.
In both cases, the early mentions of Ruth and Tunney likely earned the company some much-needed publicity just before their popular card promotions occurred.