Sunday, April 1, 2007

Trojan Goldfish

We interrupt this blog for a special investigatory report.

Time is running out. To what, we don’t know. But a 45-year trail of clues is telling us something.

1962: Inspired by a fish-shaped cheese cracker she saw in Switzerland, Pepperidge Farm founder Margaret Rudkin “returns with the recipe” and introduces Goldfish snack crackers in the United States.

Unanswered in the historical record is where this “recipe” originally came from. Visual observation indicates that a Goldfish cracker is a three-way genetic crossing of a Cheez-It, an oyster cracker, and a goldfish. But is that really all?

This question matters because over time, Goldfish crackers have evolved—as if by some mysterious genetic code—from their original ecological niche as a cocktail cracker to the snack cracker of choice for small children. Along the way, Goldfish have spawned multiple variants that display emotions, personality characteristics, and the latent capability to influence a generation.

1973: Co-discoverer of DNA Francis Crick, with Leslie Orgel, propose the theory of directed panspermia, suggesting that the seeds of life may have been purposely spread by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.

Although the typical interpretation of directed panspermia is about the origin of life on Earth, what if a group of Swiss scientists in 1959 came across recently arrived seeds of life, courtesy of comet debris still frozen after impact in the Alps? And what if careful analysis revealed that the ideal host for this new type of life was a baked-goods consumer product?

1987: Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Ronald Reagan says: “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us?”

One year later, Goldfish crackers go into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

1997: Goldfish crackers appear with a smile stamped on them, the first change since their introduction. They become “the snack that smiles back.”

With this, Goldfish become more than passive objects of consumption. Goldfish become friends to their little consumers. Ingratiating their way into relationships by simply smiling back, are Goldfish setting the stage for something more than smiles?

1998-2004: Pepperidge Farm introduces Goldfish product variants such as Flavor Blasted Goldfish, Goldfish Colors, Giant Goldfish, Baby Goldfish, Goldfish Sandwich Snackers, and Goldfish Crisps.

Consistent with the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium, Goldfish speciation occurs in an explosive six-year period following a 35-year period of stasis. The new variants replicate the primitive emotional apparatus of “smiley,” albeit for different market segments. 

2005: Pepperidge Farm announces that “Americans will be smiling even more as they get to know [Goldfish] in a whole new way as the fun-shaped snack comes to life in three dimensions.”

Embodied in the animated character Finn, Goldfish now have a figurehead to actively influence young minds. More than a year of market research shaped Finn to leverage the already “significant emotional connection with the brand” that Goldfish had attained.

2005: According to Pepperidge Farm, nearly half of U.S. households with children under 18 purchase Goldfish snack crackers annually.

While perhaps true, this statistic masks the well-known fact that 100% of children under age five eat Goldfish crackers on a near-continuous basis. The few parents that have tried to resist—such as those who sought refuge from Goldfish’s cheddary goodness by living in former nuclear-missile silos—still found their children innocently enjoying handfuls of Goldfish while watching Teletubbies.

In other words, while Goldfish were evolving their emotional and communicative capabilities, they were also accumulating market share, invited into American homes like little Trojan Horses.

2006: Pepperidge Farm announces a new ad campaign featuring Finn and three new Goldfish friends, Gilbert, Brooke and X-treme. Steve White, Vice President, Youth Snacks, commented: “We see this new campaign as a tool to begin to help teach important lessons and help instill values in kids in ways they understand and identify with, without being preachy or patronizing. The Goldfish characters’ distinct personalities and tales of everyday life are things every child—and adult—can relate to in an optimistic way.”

Having built the infrastructure for its own mini-religion, with a devoted following of millions, what “lessons” and “values” will be forthcoming? What panspermic messages did those Swiss scientists transfer into the Goldfish genetic code that have yet to be expressed? And given Goldfish’s recent rate of evolution, how long will it be until Goldfish are capable of human-like intelligence, and perhaps superhuman emotional, brand-building characteristics?

The stakes are high. We could preemptively try to negotiate with them now, before they turn America’s children against us. If so, do we take the obvious route and negotiate with Finn, or do we try to turn his new sidekicks against him?

The 85 billion Goldfish crackers produced each year are forward-positioned in diaper bags, pantries, and other strategic locales throughout the world. We don’t know their next move. What will be ours?

[Note to readers who arrive here from a search after April 1, 2007, when this was written. If you are unfamiliar with April Fools (or All Fools) Day, then be aware that the above is not entirely reliable, and thus you should not use it as a primary source for your term paper.]


  1. Love this, Steve! Passed it on to several friends!

  2. Interesting; many years ago, a friend told me that the phrase "Time is running out, have you tried goldfish yet?" used to be on the side of the Goldfish container. Since then, I have looked repeatedly but have not been able to find that phrase referenced anywhere.
    A few months ago, I finally broke down and emailed Pepperidge Farms and asked them if there was any truth to the matter, however I received only a stock, probably automated, answer. Ever hear of such a phrase? I would love to find out if that was true!