The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 8 of 11)
By hal b. klein
images courtesy STARKIST
StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna is one of the best-known mascots in the advertising Pantheon. What’s less known, unless perhaps you’re commuting past the North Shore, is that Charlie’s home is Pittsburgh.
How did an oceanic fish find harbor in a city best known for its rivers? The H.J. Heinz Company, Pittsburgh’s most iconic foodmaker, bought the fish processor in 1962 and moved the company to Pittsburgh at the turn of this century.
StarKist now is owned by Dongwon Industries Co., a South Korean corporation — and it doesn’t process any fish in Pittsburgh — but it remains active in local culture by supporting organizations such as Riverlife, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Troy & Theodora Polamalu Family Foundation and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
The popularity of StarKist’s smiling mascot, Charlie the Tuna, has spread beyond advertisements. Among the many products sporting Charlie’s likeness: the radio and camera depicted above.
- StarKist’s first fish wasn’t a tuna — it was a sardine. The company was founded in 1917 in California as the French Sardine Company; it rebranded as StarKist in 1942.
- The company’s “Sorry, Charlie” catchphrase is now more than a half-century old. Leo Burnett worked with DePatie-Freleng Enterprises to create the first Charlie the Tuna television commercial in 1961.
- Preceding a wider movement in support of ethical fishing, StarKist was the first major brand to introduce “dolphin-safe” tuna, doing so in 1990.
- Despite being a Heinz-owned company since 1963, the company didn’t relocate StarKist’s headquarters to the North Side until 2000. It’s since been sold twice — to Del Monte in 2002 and Korean company Dongwon in 2008.
- Charlie may be getting on in years, but his likeness on the North Shore still is young. The giant, cartoon Charlie the Tuna has graced StarKist headquarters only since 2010.
- In 2003, actress Maila Nurmi claimed that Charlie originally had been created by none other than James Dean. Nurmi maintained Dean sketched the fish on a napkin years before the campaign began; while Dean may have drawn a fish on a napkin one night, the tale is false — but it adds to Charlie’s mystique.
“Pittsburgh has been fortunate to be the home of many iconic brands, and StarKist is an important member of our corporate community here. StarKist is a brand that has stood the test of time, continually evolving and advancing its products to meet the needs of consumers whose tastes and lifestyles are constantly changing. Whether it was introducing new, convenient and portable packaging with the pouch, or flavored tuna choices that maintained some excitement and adventure with a consumer staple, StarKist has demonstrated that inventive thinking will keep consumers interested and loyal to a brand over many decades. With healthful eating trends continuing to grow, tuna and StarKist are likely to be in the middle of the conversation and the plate for many who want to enjoy food while maintaining a lifestyle that keeps them active and fit. Add to all that the fact that StarKist’s “spokes-fish” Charlie the Tuna was recently ranked the fourth most stylish brand icon ever by the magazine Adweek, and you have a marketing legend that’s remained relevant over time and continues to drive both awareness and engagement with the brand.”
— Michele Fabrizi, president and CEO, MARC USA