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Advertising / Charlie the Tuna

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Sorry, Charlie!
"But Charlie, StarKist doesn’t want tuna with good taste. They want tuna that tastes good!".

In 1917, the French Sardine Company of California, a seafood company with heavy innovations in keeping fish cold, was founded. In 1942, they introduced StarKist to the public, a brand of canned tuna fish, eventually changing the company’s name to such in 1953. The image on the cans was of a fisherman with an earring. However, by 1961, the TV made rise to a different star for the company.

In 1961, StarKist debuted Charlie the Tuna in their advertisements, created for them by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and designed by Chuck Jones. Wearing a red beret and thick black glasses, Charlie was dedicated to being captured by StarKist, as he showed off his "good taste" in a variety of hobbies. However, he’d always be rewarded with a fishhook holding the response "Sorry, Charlie", because StarKist doesn’t want tuna with good taste, they want tuna that tastes good.

StarKist continued to use Charlie in their advertisements until the 1980s, when the campaign was retired. However, starting in 1999, with the addition of healthier options and fresh packs, Charlie was returned, and is now not only the on-screen mascot, but the on-package one as well.

Charlie’s legacy continues to live on outside of the campaign. The phrase "Sorry, Charlie" has entered American lexicon and April 6th has been designated as "Sorry, Charlie" Day.

Commercials with Charlie the Tuna in them provide examples of:

  • Abandoned Mascot: During the creation of StarKist Tuna, the mascot on the packages was of a fisherman with an earring. Starting with commercials in the 1960s, Charlie the Tuna was introduced, yet the fisherman remained on the package. By the 1980s, Charlie had become the full mascot on both the advertisements and the commercials, replacing the fisherman entirely.
  • Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: Charlie only wears a hat and pair of glasses.
  • Artsy Beret: Part of Charlie’s outfit is a red beret to reference his Beatnik design, while also used as a shorthand for his "good taste".
  • Beatnik: Charlie’s outfit, along with his artistic tastes, are meant to invoke this lifestyle.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Charlie was retired from the ads in the 1980s, only to be brought back in 1999.
    • Otto the octopus, a character that debuted in a single 1970s commercial, made his return in a 2016 commercial.
  • Character Catchphrase:
    • "Sorry, Charlie" was the catchphrase of the fishers. While they never actually said it, it would always be dangled on a fishhook in response to Charlie’s attempts to be caught, and became the catchphrase for the ads in general.
    • "Tell ‘em Charlie sent ya" was Charlie’s own catchphrase, said at the end of the commercials.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: No matter what he attempts, Charlie will never be accepted by StarKist.
  • Ironic Name: Hermes the snail is named for the Greek god best known for Super-Speed.
  • "Jaws" Attack Parody: Bruce is introduced rearing up from an underwater cliff in the same position as the Jaws cover. He's even named for the production nickname for the shark animatronic, and is hinted to be the shark from the movie as well, being a Hollywood star.
  • Let's Meet the Meat: Charlie is of both the "Why Don't You Want Me?" and "Eat Me" varieties. He’s desperate for StarKist to take him, only to be turned down every time. He also shills for the tuna brand itself.
  • Mascot: For StarKist tuna. He was originally a commercial-only mascot, later replacing the fisherman on the packages.
  • Nerd Glasses: Charlie wears a pair of thick black glasses to fit his beatnik design. They were originally sunglasses, but turned into standard ones for later commercials.
  • No Name Given: Downplayed. Aside from Charlie, the other sea creatures he interacts with are never given names in the commercials. However, animation sheets and website bios would reveal their names.
  • Obsessive Spokesperson: Charlie spends most of his time doing activities that appeal to StarKist Tuna so they'll appreciate his "good taste" and catch him. The problem is, he doesn't necessarily taste good, so they always reject him.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Charlie's actual first name is "Charles". Nearly everyone in the commercials calls him by Charlie, with the exception of Bruce and Hermes.
  • Phrase Catcher: The commercials will have whichever character Charlie is appearing with say "But Charlie, StarKist doesn’t want tuna with good taste. They want tuna that tastes good!" in response to Charlie’s attempts to be captured. One commercial has Wally say a variant of this line to the audience instead, since Charlie had already disappeared from the scene before it could be explained.
  • Prefers Proper Names: Charlie's real name is "Charles", with most calling him by his nickname. However, there are two exceptions:
    • Bruce, fitting his "higher end" movie star lifestyle, calls Charlie by his real name in a slightly pretentious form.
    • Hermes, fitting his older age, calls Charlie by his real name.
  • Seahorse Steed: While small compared to the other characters, seahorses are considered the same as land horses in terms of personality. Seabiscuit in particular is a "thoroughbred seahorse".
  • Shifted to CGI: Original commercials had Charlie drawn in traditional animation. After his revival, he was made CGI, albeit with cel shading.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The seahorse that Charlie attempts to capture to raise as a thoroughbred is named Seabiscuit.
    • Charlie's shark friend is named Bruce. As a Hollywood actor, he's hinted to actually be the same shark as the one from the movie.
  • Signature Headgear: Charlie wears a nice red hat and is never seen without it.
  • Tailfin Walking: Some commercials that require Charlie to be on-land have him walking this way. Even some commercials with him in-water would have him "standing" this way.
  • Terrestrial Sea Life: Later commercials would portray Charlie on land without any water.

Tell ‘em Charlie sent ya!