The Flintstones has been off the air and in syndication since 1966. But Flintstones Vitamins remain on the shelves and in homes.
Meet the Flintstones
The Flintstones were, just like the theme song claimed, a modern Stone Age family.
Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their best friends and next-door neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble, lived in working class suburban splendor in the city of Bedrock. Wilma was the consummate housewife, rocking “pearls” with her cavewoman-style dress and using a baby elephant as a vacuum cleaner; Fred, her lovable lug counterpart, worked at a local quarry and enjoyed bowling. A baby dinosaur, Dino, was the family dog and a sabertooth tiger, Baby Puss, the family cat. Later, little Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble joined the cast.
But despite the fact that it was a cartoon and featured more rock-based puns than your average adult-oriented sitcom, The Flintstones was not originally for kids. In fact, when it premiered on ABC in 1960, it took the Friday night, 8:30 to 9 pm slot, and was meant to be a kind of Stone Age Honeymooners. And it was popular — but mostly with teenagers. This, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communication, heralded a shift away from live-action children’s programming towards animation.
The show’s popularity with kids logically gave rise to a vast collection of Flintstones merchandising — alarm clocks, cookie jars, trading cars, bubble gum, toys, and, of course, vitamins.
Though they’ve obviously been around forever, vitamins, meaning a group of organic substances necessary to the function of a normal metabolism, were “discovered” by science in the 18th and 19th centuries. By the middle of the 20th century, however, vitamins had been removed from scientific study and placed squarely in the realm of commerce. Vitamins in pill form, a 20th century invention, were peddled not by medical personnel, but by retailers, such as grocery giant Kroger.
Vitamins were also high profit items, with a market ready for diversification. In 1960, the vitamin giant Miles Laboratory, owners of the One-a-Day label, developed Chocks, the first chewable vitamin aimed at children. And, even as doctors, Food and Drug Administration officials, and scientists tussled over the alleged medical benefits of vitamins, Miles was making a mint off its candy-like chewables.
With a hold on the children’s vitamin market, it wasn’t surprising, therefore, that the company would choose to pair up with one of the most popular children’s shows at the time. In 1968, Miles paired up with the modern Stone Age family, producing chewy vitamins in a variety of flavors and in the shapes of the characters.
The Flintstones were a solid, trustworthy lot who kids believed in and the vitamins were pretty much an instant hit. Miles Laboratory, which later introduced Bugs Bunny vitamins as well, dominated the children’s vitamin category for years, until it was acquired by Bayer as a subsidiary in 1979. Though Miles was no more, Flintstones Vitamins remained a market leader — and still are, though new characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and crew are starting to crowd in on the action. Nowadays, there are seven varieties of the flavor and vitamin-packed cartoon shapes: Flintstones Sour Gummies, Flintstones Gummies, Flintstones Complete with Choline (Choline, a nutrient found in breast milk and, of course, cauliflower, is good for brain development), Flintstones Plus Extra C, Flintstones Plus Calcium, Flintstones Plus Iron, and My First Flintstones.
Perhaps some of the explanation for the Flintstone Vitamins continued success is in their nostalgia for the generations of children who grew up with them — and who are now parents themselves. There’s even a Facebook group for those who ate the vitamins as a kid. And then there’s that jingle — “Ten million strong and growing!” — which, incidentally, was composed by Martin O’Donnell, the same guy who composed the music for the intensely popular Halo video game series.
Betty’s Not a Vitamin
But there was one great injustice underlying the Flintstones Vitamin empire: Nearly all the Flintstones characters — including the bizarre Martian character, Great Gazoo — all at one time had fruity, chalky likenesses. All, except Betty. Poor Betty, destined to always play second fiddle to Wilma, didn’t even warrant her own vitamin.
There were (at least) two possible reasons why Betty didn’t have her own vitamin: First, manufacturers claimed that Betty’s waist was too thin and kept breaking during production. Second, Betty was virtually indistinguishable from Wilma.
Though there was a small Betty for vitamin movement, including an Atlanta rock band that called itself Betty’s Not a Vitamin, it wasn’t until actress and comedienne Rosie O’Donnell, who played Betty in the 1994 live action film, brought Betty’s plight to the attention of the nation that anything was really done about it. O’Donnell, during a television interview about the film, complained that all the other characters were represented, but not Betty. A savvy marketing agency seized the opportunity to involve the consumer in the direction of the brand and launched a nationwide campaign to determine Betty’s fate. The agency set up prehistoric style voting booths in regional shopping malls across the country, as well as a 1-800 number, to allow consumers to decide whether Betty should be let in the club.
The public didn’t let her down. More than 3,000 kids and their mothers voted in person and more than 17,000 calls were logged, with 91 percent in favor of bringing in Betty. She became a character in December 1995, replacing the Flintmobile.
Notably, Betty’s Not a Vitamin was named one of the 100 best band names by Paste magazine.
Yabba Dabba Doo!
And finally, vitamins weren’t the only things that the modern Stone Age family hawked. In fact, one of the show’s original sponsors was Winston cigarettes: Fred and Barney were Winston men, all the way. One early cartoon featured Fred and Barney taking a “Winston break,” because “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”
While the Winston ads weren’t so much a problem, people later objected to the Flintstones pushing drugs, even if they were multivitamins. The concern there was that commercials for Flintstone Vitamins were misleading in terms of the actual health benefits of the vitamins. Miles Laboratory, in the early 1970s, was forced by FDA and Federal Trade Commission scrutiny to pull away from advertising during children’s programming, such as the Saturday morning cartoons hours.