You’d never expect to find Paddington Bear at the center of a nationwide controversy, but in 2007, that actually happened to the duffle coat-wearing, suitcase carrying, eternally polite bear. If you’ve spent more than three minutes watching Paddington, you know that he’s way into marmalade sandwiches, but a British ad agency decided that maybe the then 49-year-old needed to shake things up.
Consumer goods conglomerate Unilever and agency DDB London paid “an undisclosed sum” to Paddington & Company to put the Peruvian-born bear in his very first TV ads. In the commercials, Paddington starts to eat his usual marmalade sarnie, but then changes his mind and puts — holy shit! — Marmite on a slice of bread instead. “Maybe I ought to try something different,” Paddington thought to himself, before UPENDING A HALF-CENTURY OF SANDWICH TRADITION.
That did not go over well with… a lot of people, including Michael Bond, the guy who created Paddington in the first place. “I burst a lot of blood vessels, because it was done without my permission,” he told The Independent in 2008. “I had an agency who looked after that side of Paddington. Normally they were left to their own devices and by the time I got to hear of it they had done some filming. The galling thing is, I still get letters from children to say, ‘Why did Paddington change over to Marmite?’”
Bond wasn’t the only pissed off Paddington stan: at one point, over a dozen Facebook groups existed, purely to protest the commercial, and several of them had politely irritated names like “Paddington eats Marmalade, Not Marmite” and “We don’t appreciate Paddington eating Marmite.”
What complicates the entire situation even further is that Paddington & Company, which cashed out on the bear’s image, is managed by Bond’s own daughter. “My father was upset about this because from his point of view, as the creator of Paddington, this rather goes against the grain,” Karen Jankel told The Independent in 2007. “It was my decision to let Paddington eat Marmite and I believe this is a good association for him to have. Paddington Bear and Marmite are two great British institutions, and it’s great that they should flourish together.”
Paddington and Marmite didn’t flourish together long, if at all: in early 2009, Unilever’s deal with the bear ran out, and it was not renewed. Bond never believed that Paddington would’ve ditched his regular sandwiches in the first place. “He would never convert,” he told BBC Radio 4. “The thing about children’s characters is these things are set in stone.”
Very well, Michael. We’ll cross you off the guest list for our next Marmite party.
A version of this story appeared on the news page of Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink.
Featured image: Rosser1954, CC BY-SA 4.0