Several years before classic TV specials such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown secured the place of Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters in the hearts of millions of Americans, Charlie Brown and his friends came to life to sell cars.
In 1959, Ford Motor Company secured licensing rights to the Peanuts for use in a series of color TV commercials for its cars and the intros for Ford-sponsored The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. The first spots appeared in January 1960 and marked the first time that Schulz’s creation had been animated. Here’s one of those early show intros:
While that show left the air in June 1961, the Peanuts’ association with Ford was just getting started. The gang’s most high-profile (and memorable assignment) was to help pitch a brand new Ford vehicle.
For the 1960 North American automobile model year, Ford made its first foray into the compact car market with the Falcon. Designed and priced to compete with the likes of compacts such as the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair, Nash Rambler American, and Plymouth Valiant, the Falcon lasted through the 1969 model year — when it was replaced by the Maverick.
From 1960 through the 1965 model year, the Peanuts were everywhere in support of the Falcon — print ads, TV commercials, and official Ford literature such as sales brochures. Here’s one of the very first Peanuts Ford ads, animated by Bill Meléndez for Playhouse Pictures. In it, Charlie Brown is handing out cigars to celebrate the birth of Ford’s new “economy twins,” the marketing phrase used to sell the Falcon and the third-generation Fairlane.
Meléndez is a name most Peanuts fans should know, as he was hand-picked by Schulz to direct those great, early holiday TV specials. Already you can see that the classic Peanuts animation style is firmly in place for characters like Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and Snoopy.
After Ford’s licensing deal with Schulz and United Features Syndicate expired, that was the end of the Peanuts appearing in Ford Falcon ads. In 1965, the year after that deal ended, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired. A few decades later Peanuts embarked upon its most visible and memorable marketing association yet when they began an association with MetLife insurance.
Here’s one final treat from the Peanuts Falcon days — a beautiful color animation cel and background from a 1962 TV ad. It features a great Bill Meléndez illustration of Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy.