As I sit here and tap out these words on my keyboard, I have a box of tissues close by. I am hopefully near the end of a seasonal head cold that has plagued me for the last week or so. It's a topical subject this time of year and one with a distinct, historical Disney cartoon connection.
In 1951, the Disney Studios produced a ten minute cartoon entitled How to Catch a Cold. On the surface it was a public service film meant to educate; on a more subtle level it was a commercial for Kleenex tissues, or Kleenex disposable handkerchiefs as they were called back then. Disney was commissioned by International Cellucotton Products Company (ICPC) to produce the film. ICPC was a marketing subsidiary of Kimberly-Clark who owned the Kleenex brand. The company had previously worked with Disney in 1946 on a similar but more specialized animated film, The Story of Menstruation, which became a health class standard for many young girls throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and related specifically to Kimberly-Clark's Kotex brand. How to Catch a Cold was less sensitive in nature, opting for a more comical approach to its subject matter. It could almost be considered a slightly more benign cousin to the Goofy cartoon Cold War that was also produced in 1951.
How to Catch a Cold was directed by studio veteran Hamilton Luske and produced on a budget of $150,000. It featured the character of Common Man, being lectured on cold prevention by an alter ego sprite appropriately named Common Sense. Most notable to the effort was Bill Thompson who voiced both Common Man and Common Sense. Thompson was a veteran Disney voice-actor (Ranger Woodlore and numerous film roles) and is probably best known for voicing Droopy at MGM. Despite its corporate pedigree, Kimberly-Clark did not want the film to appear overly commercialized. A company marketing executive on the project noted at the time that, "[W]e do not want to load [How to Catch a Cold] with commercials. I would think that credits at the beginning and at the end of the picture, plus a few shots of cold sufferers taking tissues from the Kleenex package in the picture itself would suffice."
The film was initially distributed to schools and community organizations. Then in 1952, it became something of a minor pop culture phenomenon when NBC used it as a demonstration vehicle for color television. In that regard, the short was seen by more 200 million viewers over the course of the next few years. Despite such dramatic market penetration, Kimberly-Clark never experienced any significant increase in sales or market as a result of the film. It was updated in 1986 but has since essentially faded into obscurity. Ephemera dealers however seem to do a brisk trade on a series of posters that were distributed to schools and organizations that screened the film.