“With a click and a flash”: Creating an advertisment for Butter Krust bread
In the 1960s, Richter’s Bakery in San Antonio, Texas, producers of Butter Krust bread, ran an innovative series of advertisements in the city’s African American newspaper, the San Antonio Register. These ads drew their models from the local community and asked real people to endorse the product. Richter’s worked with a local ad agency and hired a prominent local photographer, James W. Zintgraff, Jr., to snap the pictures.
The decade-long campaign featured dozens of families around their dining tables enjoying Butter Krust bread with tag lines like “They Appreciate Butter Krust Nutrition.” Within the context of national history, the campaign represents a sea change in advertising, when publishers like John H. Johnson, of Ebony Magazine, and new black-owned ad agencies like Zebra in New York, convinced manufacturers and advertisers to recognize African Americans as a market. The Register provides an illustration of advertising that not only sold to but valued African Americans as consumers and community members.
During a recent research trip, I was fortunate to meet Marlon Gardley, whose family posed for one of Butter Krust’s iconic photos. It’s rare to meet someone who posed for a local advertisement. Marlon was gracious enough to share his story –the story behind the ad — which we’ve reproduced below.
- Kathleen Franz, American Enterprise curator
Marlon Gardley remembers the photo shoot for Butter Krust Ad in 1963.
My older brothers Bubba and Carl kidded me incessantly for eating the slice of bread, which I was supposed to use as prop during the photo shoot while Ronnie (my other brother) dressed silently nearby in the room. Their amusement began just minutes before in another part of the only home I ever knew for 20 years and six months.
One Sunday in 1963, my parents — who were as stern as they look in this photograph — warned us not to change out of our church clothes when we arrived home after morning worship. We attended New Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on the east side of San Antonio when Norman W. Bacon was its pastor. It was the same year of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I remember watching the funeral procession on Mr. and Mrs. Hooks’ (the neighbors next door) television with my sister Cheryl and my mother, who wept as she looked on. (Later, when I was a tad older, I often ran errands to the local grocery store for Mrs. Hooks — with my mother’s permission of course.)
In 1963 my daddy, brothers and I had gotten our heads neatly cut and trimmed for just 50 cents each at Shaw’s Barber College, a place where young colored men went to learn the barber trade. The night before we had all endured a series of yelps, shrieks, and screams from my sister Cheryl as my mama pressed and styled her hair for church the next day. My sister protested every stroke of the hot comb while Mama tried to calm her down so she didn’t burn her. At the time, actual burns and the fear of them of were the same to Cheryl. I would have to agree with her — the comb looked like a hot poker. I was always glad when it was over. I really felt bad for Cheryl. Just for that reason alone I was glad I was not a girl; a trip to the barbershop was torturous enough for a 4-year old boy.
As we drove up to our house after church, two white men waited at 235 Maryland Street, the address of our quaint two-bedroom house in which the seven of us lived. The house had been remodeled over the years since 1963, a nip here, a tuck there. Holding what I later learned was camera equipment, Daddy invited the men inside. After a brief greeting one of the men arranged us around the dining room table on which the loaf of Butter Krust bread lay. He handed Cheryl and me a slice while the other man continued to position the camera equipment. I hadn’t a clue what I was supposed to do with that bread. So I started eating. With a click and a flash, as they say, “the rest was history.” The photographer captured this image. After the photo shoot, my brothers commenced their teasing as we changed out of our church clothes (me still nursing what remained of the slice).
Even though I didn’t know what the whole episode was about, I remember vividly taking this photo. A trip to the local store with Mama the next day to purchase a copy of the _San Antonio Register_ in which it appeared and reminiscing over the event each time I viewed the photo in subsequent years burned this image into my brain.
Not many years after it was taken this photograph was lost. It has been my interest to find it since about 1979, but numerous searches through the family photo archives were fruitless. Now, after just under an hour of research on the internet, I located the photograph which has been archived at the Institute of Texan Cultures. The experience of viewing it again, 49 years after the photographer captured the image, was surreal.
Do you remember Butter Krust’s advertising? Did you participate in their campaigns or take a factory tour? Or did your home town have similar local advertising? Let us know and share your memories with us!