‘Oooh Yeah’: How Everyone Learned to ‘Snap Into a Slim Jim’

The “Macho Man” Randy Savage wasn’t actually the first wrestler to utter the snappy slogan.

Slim Jim Light Bulb Commercial (Macho Man Randy Savage) (1996)
Slim Jim Light Bulb Commercial (Macho Man Randy Savage) (1996) / RetroCommercial.com

It might be hard to believe, but there was a time not too long ago when Slim Jims weren’t something for teenage boys to “snap into,” but rather, something their tired old dads were meant to enjoy alongside a tall mug of beer while bellied up to the bar after work.

First introduced in the early ‘40s, Slim Jims—then sold under the Penn Rose moniker—were born to be a less greasy, easily cured pepperoni alternative for barflies looking to grab a snack. The spicy, meaty snacks languished behind bar counters in large jars of vinegar until the 1950s, when co-creators Adolph Levis and Peter Cherry decided to individually wrap the sticks. This allowed them to move out of bar rooms and into convenience stores. From there, they were embraced by road dogs and beatniks looking for something quick to eat as they explored America’s newly expanding Interstate Highway System. 

General Mills bought the brand in 1967 and made a run at expanding the market by using sports newscaster Howard Cosell as a spokesperson, but it wasn’t until 1989 that then-owner GoodMark Foods realized that the brand’s real potential audience might be too young to drink or drive. After conducting the first real market research into the brand’s fan base, the company discovered that a good portion of Slim Jim sales were to teenage boys. This demographic had allowance money to burn and was into the grown-up vibes of convenience store shopping, but wasn’t yet old enough to snag a six-pack or a scratcher. 

GoodMark enlisted the help of Tom Leland, an ad writer and creative consultant from North Castle Partners who discovered, through focus groups, that people liked the tangy “snap” that occurs when you bite through the Slim Jim’s casing. (That snap is a result of the lactic acid “starter” the brand uses in its 17-hour meat curing process.) Leland and his team seized on the verb, which they thought conveyed not just a motion but a bit of rude, frenetic energy, which ultimately led to the slogan snap into a Slim Jim.

Leland and Slim Jim, hoping to capture some of the rowdy youth culture of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, approached wild man comedian Sam Kinison to be the brand’s new spokesperson, but his team declined. They next tapped into the popularity of professional wrestling, which had captured the hearts and minds of young men everywhere with its over-the-top personalities and must-see pay-per-view events like the WWE’s Royal Rumble. The sport’s biggest star at the time, Hulk Hogan, was deemed too straight-laced to rep the brand, so the long-haired, fringe-clad Ultimate Warrior (Hogan’s in-ring rival at the time) was hired to be the brand’s first hyper-aggro, meat-splitting spokesperson instead. 

Fast forward to 1993, when the Ultimate Warrior was replaced by the flamboyant “Macho Man” Randy Savage, whose barking delivery quickly made him synonymous with the brand. Savage had “screw you” attitude to spare, as well as a general disdain for authority that Slim Jim consumers really seemed to love. He’d hold onto his role as the brand’s main spokesperson until 2000, smashing through walls on TV to antagonize boring adults and add “a little excitement” to the lives of fictional young people on the regular.

As Dan Skinner, manager of brand communications at Slim Jim parent company ConAgra, told The Takeout in 2020, Savage was proof that “wrestlers, as a group, communicate energy really well.” If you happen to be dozing off in front of the TV, he said, “hearing [WWE wrestlers] on your TV would wake you up.” 

Though Savage died from heart disease (which also resulted in a car crash) in 2011— on the same day that Slim Jim permanently closed one of its two U.S. production facilities at the time—the “oooh yeah” wrestler is still deeply enmeshed with the brand. In 2019, Slim Jim came out with a “Savage Slim Jim,” a super-sized snack bearing the late wrestler’s image. 

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