This year, The Flintstones—that venerable cartoon sitcom about a blue-collar, Stone Age family—turns 50 years old. By today’s standards, the show itself is a dinosaur. Even if kids don’t watch it anymore, though, chances are they still know the characters thanks to a hugely successful tie-in product: Flintstones Vitamins.
First introduced as Chocks childrens’ vitamins in 1960 (the Flintstones brand came in 1968), these colourful tablets are now available in eight shapes, including Barney, Dino and the Great Gazoo. The line’s been updated over the years—calcium chews were introduced in 2002, and gummies in 2005—but the basic brand is an “enduring” one, says Kevin Skinner, a vice-president of Bayer Inc., its manufacturer. Despite the show’s waning popularity and new entries into the vitamin market—Centrum sells kids’ vitamins based on the popular Dora the Explorer character—the Flintstones formula remains the industry T. rex. “We outsell the number two brand by five-to-one,” Skinner says.
Vitamin sales in pharmacies across Canada jumped by 14 per cent last year, according to Gerry Harrington of Consumer Health Products Canada. Carlotta Mast of the Nutrition Business Journal attributes this partly to the recession: “As people have less money to spend on staying healthy, they do what they can,” she says. “Many see multivitamins as insurance.” The children’s category is especially competitive, she adds. Still, “everyone’s trying to replicate what the Flintstones did.”
So what’s the secret? Flintstones appeal to parents who grew up with them, says Kenneth Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University, and to kids because they taste good. “If kids didn’t like it, parents wouldn’t buy it,” Wong says. Their longevity, then, “is a testament to the power of the product. They continue to sell because they work.”