Strange Things Everyone Ignores About The Hamburger Helper Mascot

If you're a follower of fiction at all, you know that some characters become so burned in our consciousness that we forget that said characters weren't regulars on our favorite shows or in our favorite book series until much, much later in the story. Consider Ahsoka Tano in the "Star Wars" universe or Dobby, the house elf, in the "Harry Potter" franchise, and you'll understand what we mean here. We begin our article about the Hamburger Helper mascot with such examples to remind foodies that, although the visage of the glove now lives branded in our memories, it's best to remember that this famous mascot wasn't introduced when Hamburger Helper was born. The gloved one, or Lefty, burst onto the scene almost a decade after Hamburger Helper boxed dinners hit the market.

But like all good mascots, Lefty grew on us in such a way that he has now become the face of Hamburger Helper. We can no more imagine a Hamburger Helper without the gloved one than we can imagine "Harry Potter" without Dobby. In hindsight, it seems odd that Lefty's ubiquity doesn't seem so strange to us, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In the interest of bringing you all the details, we've gathered a smattering of quirky facts about the Hamburger Helper mascot that we think you should know.

He has wonky anatomy

For those of us who grew up watching black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons or who are fans of the sculptures from the artist Kaws, three-fingered characters ain't no thang. So, we could argue that the anatomy of the Hamburger Helper mascot shouldn't be a thang, either. But apparently, his wonky anatomy, complete with his chubby thumb, three-fingered body, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer snout, has been the topic of conversation for the Internet's curious.

The speculation started in 2017 when Twitter user BOOma Thurman begged for answers regarding the hand's curious anatomical makeup. At first, the mascot demurred, clearly too shy to reveal what kind of scaffolding holds up his three-fingered skirt. However, as time went on, the Hamburger Helper mascot finally unveiled an X-ray view of its skeleton. As it turns out, his bony visage looks a bit like Star Wars' General Grievous underneath. In other words, our favorite hamburger-helpin' mascot sports two sets of arms and one set of legs. Thus far, despite having the hands to do so, this wonky mascot has not needed to take up a lightsaber or change fictional universes in his quest to pull together the perfect dinner. He's always in your cupboard, waiting to help you make dinner, four arms and all.

The powers that be at General Mills thought he might be too much like Poppin' Fresh

Let's face it. It's not just the Helper mascot that looks a bit white and squishy and so cute you could eat him, given half a chance. When General Mills rolled out its now-famous friend, some company execs wondered whether he looked too much like another famous mascot, Poppin' Fresh -– aka, the Pillsbury Doughboy. While General Mills didn't speak specifically about why this could have been a problem, we can offer a bit of speculation about it. In TV land, creating mascots that look too much like a rival company's mascot can get you into hot grease, so to speak. Aside from this, if you want to stand out, it's best to create a mascot that doesn't look like any others. There's a risk that people might become confused come commercial time if they are too similar.

And at the end of the day, the would-be rivalry between Poppin' Fresh and Mr. Glove did not matter much. No lawsuit ensued, and General Mills bought Pillsbury in 2001, effectively making Poppin' Fresh Doughboy one of its mascots. But that doesn't stop people from pitting the two mascots against each other on social media. In June 2020, Jake Sanders, a marketer and Grammy-nominated musician, even asked on Twitter who'd win in a knock-down drag-out -– the left-handed burger-helping wonder or the doughboy. Thus far, the jury's still out on that one.

Helping Hand – aka Lefty – was introduced in 1977 to bolster lagging sales

As it turns out, the helping hand ... err ... glove actually had a name –- Lefty -– and he was brought to life faster than Frosty the Snowman could say "happy birthday" to boost sales. It's difficult now to imagine that Lefty wasn't always a part of the Hamburger Helper ad campaigns, but he wasn't. The casserole-in-a-box meals pounced on the nightly dinner scene in 1971 to help consumers combat rising beef prices. General Mills, via its subsidiary Betty Crocker, promised to help home cooks everywhere stretch one pound of hamburger into enough food to feed five people. Within the first year, 27% of American households had tried the boxed dinners, according to General Mills.

What set this iteration of boxed dinners apart from other ones that Betty Crocker had released in the past was its one-pan promise. In prior boxed dinners, people had to cook the noodles and the burger separately. With Hamburger Helper everything got cooked together. It made all the difference in how well the company's boxed dinners sold. However, despite being popular from the get-go, sales for the product began to lag in less than a decade, inspiring General Mills and Betty Crocker to introduce Lefty to home cooks everywhere in 1977. Not only did Lefty turn out to be a helping hand in the kitchen, but he also lent General Mills a helping hand at the bank, too.

He was brought to life via animatronics, stop-motion animation, hand puppets, and CGI

Bringing Lefty to life reads a bit like a primer in the history of animation. When he was first created in the late 1970s, animatronics and stop-motion animation were getting big attention thanks to movies like "Star Wars," which heavily utilized such techniques to bring those imaginary worlds to life onscreen. And indeed, Lefty's "alive" thanks to some of the innovations that we saw in big movie blockbusters from that era. But some of Lefty's moves came about due to good, old-fashioned hand puppetry, too.

In later years, as animation techniques evolved, studios like Calabash Animation brought Lefty into the modern age via computer-generated imagery (CGI). One TV ad sees Lefty rescuing dinner by encouraging a family to try some Italian-flavored Hamburger Helper. It's a thoroughly modern commercial, complete with Lefty tip-tapping on a laptop keyboard and, subsequently, taking the family in question on a culinary tour of Italy in 15 seconds flat. In the commercial, Lefty moves with all the agility you'd expect from CGI. In that respect, the commercial isn't just about giving a family an idea for dinner. It's the culminating leg in the history of Lefty's animated life.

He starred in a short film as a killer glove

You know, for some of us, making dinner is already a scary prospect without having to worry about whether we'll get a visit from a maniacal gloved hand that means to murder us between courses during the meal. Sounds like a creepy nightmare, right? For filmmaker Scott Spiegel, that nightmare became the 6-minute film "Attack of the Helping Hand!" It's as campy and creepy as you'd expect it to be. It's also a bit humorous, and despite the now-grainy quality of this '70s short, the creativity still shines through.

The short film follows a woman getting ready to make dinner –- Hamburger Helper, of course. As she goes about her business, Lefty suddenly appears, telling her he's her helping hand for dinner. As predictably as something straight out of the "Scary Movie" franchise, the gloved menace goes straight for the attack. After numerous attempts to fend off the killer glove, the woman finally nabs him for good with the blender. (We'll spare you the details.) She then picks up again with her dinner makings, only to have the Pillsbury Doughboy appear as she cracks open her can of rolls. Truly, it's a General Mills mascot nightmare! Spiegel also directed "Attack of the Pillsbury Doughboy" -– we're not making this up -– before eventually racking up acting credits in multiple feature-length films, including "The Evil Dead" and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

Lefty produced a five-song rap mix tape, Watch the Stove

Never let it be said that an April Fools' prank can't result in good things. In 2014, a tweet began a back-and-forth between Lefty and his followers on Twitter. The glove started hinting around at wanting to release a mix tape and take his rightful place as a next-gen rapper in a line-up with big names like Kanye and MC. Lefty seemed to be all talk ... until he finally made good on his aspirations and released a mix tape on April 1, 2016. The vocal stylings of the glove came to life with a little help from McNally Smith College of Music students as well as Dequexatron X000 (DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip & Bobby Raps), GenReal, Theory, and others.

Released on SoundCloud under the rapper name "Helper," the mixtape called "Watch the Stove," a parody of the JayZ and Kanye song "Watch the Throne," features five songs: "Feed the Streets," "Hamburger Helper," "Crazy," "Food for Your Soul," and "She's In Love With the Glove." What started out as a joke became a next-level foodie marketing campaign. The move even inspired a copycat mixtape marketing campaign from Wendy's.

There are music videos featuring Lefty

No self-respecting music artist today would put out a mixtape without a video, and our little gloved friend is no exception. In addition to releasing his mixtape of songs, the gloved one also dropped two music videos, "She's in Love With the Glove" and "Crazy," to compliment the audio on SoundCloud. The former is a sultry down-tempo dance mix that's almost NSFW (not safe for work) and includes champagne dreams and silly cab ride antics. In the latter case, we're warned of what will happen if we take the cheesy goodness of Helper away from rapper Theory. 

It'd be easy to dismiss this April Fools' Day joke, except that it got some serious nods in the industry, including a write-up by Billboard, which called Lefty "the hottest new rapper on the scene." Straight up. These songs and videos are totally legit and enough to make you hungry for your next Helper meal. Good thing you'll have some dinner music to listen to once things start cookin' on your stove.

Lefty celebrated his 40th birthday at a dance party in NYC

Who knew that the 1970s savior of dinner, the gloved one himself, would become such a party animal in his old age? But it's true. He has. Lefty, the Hamburger Helper mascot, turned 40 in 2017 and enjoyed a big blowout birthday bash in New York City to celebrate. Boxed invitations, looking very hip-hop-esque, included black branded hats, a box of macaroni noodles, and a CD of "Watch the Stove." The glitzy night saw partiers dancing with puffed-up versions of Lefty while DJs, neon signs, and disco balls kept the mood lively.

Naturally, those in attendance posted their fun on social media. It appears to have been a success, too. At least one party watcher, @legallyReckless, asked, "Can this come to DC???" Another Twitter user, @henrysebby, claimed that the gloved one and his party were "lit." We'll say this about Lefty's Big 4-0. He knows how to party, and General Mills knows how to market to a new generation.

The glove has a sense of humor

We gotta say it. A certain amount of goofiness goes with the job of being a food mascot. Don't believe us? Here's proof. Ever seen the Jolly Green Giant cry? Or Poppin' Fresh frown? As far as job requirements for commercial mascots go, "has a sense of humor" is probably right at the top of these characters' CVs.

And while it's one thing to see a character's humor in commercials, it's another thing to see it on Twitter, and Lefty displays it in droves. Examples? Upon learning that actor Dax Shepard was cast in a Hamburger Helper movie as the stove as part of a satirical post from ClickHole, Lefty asked, "Who'd play me tho?" In an interview with Pop Icon, the glove said fans would be surprised by his humility but then goes on to say that he's successful and that America loves him.

All kidding aside, it's a solid brand marketing strategy. A study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal concluded that food brands with personalities — with humor and trendy language used as indicators — earn more than 100,000 retweets and around three-quarters of a million likes. The Helper brand had the "highest number of retweets per follower," the study said. It concluded that stand-out brand personalities, like Helper, enjoy a lot of power in the marketplace because of the number of times their brands get shared on social media. As Lefty well knows, it pays to be funny.

Lefty does ad campaigns with influencers

As part of General Mills' rebrand strategy for Helper, it began to embrace influencers. Take a quick peek at Lefty's Twitter account, and you'll find his Twitter wall papered with influencer pictures and inputs. In one prominent tweet, NRG gaming company promised to put Twitch star Stable Ronaldo (see photo above) in the Lefty costume if the tweet got 5,000 likes. It was part of a gamer/ Helper Mac & Cheese Sweepstakes that paired Lefty up with some of the gaming world's most prominent players. However, this is, by no means, an isolated strategy. The Lefty-produced mixtape tapped real-life DJs, like DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip, to pull the campaign off.

It's a wise strategy. Search Engine Watch points out that a majority of people are more likely to make a purchase based social media referrals. And working with influencers, particularly if those influencers have followers, subscribers, likes, and retweets, can boost business. It allows mascots like Lefty to break through the noise in an already-overcrowded social media marketplace.

Lefty was a big player in General Mills' 2013 rebrand

In 2013, after decades of being a market leader, Hamburger Helper saw a worrisome 14% decrease in sales in the year prior, per Yahoo. At the same time, Kraft, one of Hamburger Helper's biggest competitors, saw increased sales. This led the powers that be at General Mills to conclude that a rebrand might be in order. Aside from chopping its name in half, taking it from Hamburger Helper to just Helper, the company embraced a new demographic: millennial men. Much of the marketing was to take place on Twitter -– a risky move at the time, given the fact that Helper only had 80 followers on the social media platform. GM also decided that its favorite four-fingered puppet, Lefty, would sit at the center of the rebrand.

Helper's Twitter account grew to more than 25,000 followers. Lefty was as goofy as ever, taking on a slightly irreverent attitude toward followers, playing troll to those who didn't have the decency to put a good dinner on the table. His humor never spilled over into mean, but it definitely had more of an edge.

General Mills eventually bowed out of the game altogether and sold the Hamburger Helper and Suddenly Salad brands to Eagle Foods for $610 million, according to a July 2022 press release from General Mills

He'd invited the Trix Rabbit to a brand mascots dinner

In 2005, Mastercard brought together some of the biggest names in company mascots in one commercial: the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Jolly Green Giant, Chef Boyardee, Mr. Peanut, and more. Do you know who was conspicuously absent from this commercial mascots' dream team? Lefty, the hamburger-helping glove, that's who. But if Lefty felt offended by the possible snub, he didn't mention it in a 2016 Pop Icon interview. When asked which TV mascot he'd invite over for dinner, he merely suggested that Trix Rabbit and Buzzbee from Cheerios would be welcome to dine with him.

If such talk straddles the line between reality and fantasy, it's all in a day's work for mascots like Lefty. After all, most of us had a not-so-secret fantasy that if we kept one eye open at night, we'd catch our toys playing together like they did in the "Toy Story" movie franchise. That's the beauty of effective mascots in advertising. They allow us to personify our favorite brands, helping us to engage with products, not as something we buy from a store, but as someone we invite into our homes. Such personification can be quite profitable, too, according to Pepper Content, increasing a company's bottom line by as much as 41%.

This personification also makes us believe that somewhere out there in the world, some of our favorite mascots are sitting down to a big plate of Hamburger Helper as we speak.