How Litte Surprises came to be…

by Graziella Carbone

 …And so the adventure began…
It is not by chance that I call it an adventure. Rather, it was a challenge that was picked and developed with enthusiasm (and today I can also say, with the recklessness of beginners).
Thanks to the creativity distinctive of our agencies, we never had problems with coming up with thinking of new ideas to propose.
The ideas were born during the brainstorming sessions of the work team – it literally means during cerebral storms. It is a group creativity technique that helps to formulate ideas, even eccentric ones. Then, at second moment, the work tam made a critique of the ideas and eventually a selection took place when the brainstorming session was over. We adapted famous games that existed already, like memory games, Domino, and Merchant at the Fair, to the world of Mulino Bianco – especially with regard to graphic design that recalled the products of the line. I personally went to the Nuremberg Toy Fair every year in February (and I still do today) – a real resource for ideas. Other card games had really been invented, like Make your schoolbag ready, The street market, and Tris domino. Many other surprises, like the entire series of booklets, were designed together with the Mulino Bianco Marketing office.
Often a Little Surprise was created also thanks to the availability of materials. An example to speak for all: the technical ability to print materials that make up wax pastels in different shapes, like flowers (the famous Cerelli produced in eight different variants). It is not just sufficient to have an idea; you also have to be able to produce it at a very precise cost. Then, it must be accepted and shared by the Marketing Office, nowadays like back then.
However, the real adventure was to make the ideas become reality and put them into production: molds for the plastic gadgets (every object required two months of designing) and the related production, printing installations for paper games and all of the graphic work to personalize them…
At that point, once a Little Surprise was produced, often made of multiple pieces and different materials, the next problem to address was packaging (all done by hand). The various sorted pieces arrived at the packaging center, and had to be ready by every Saturday of every week of the year, because on Sunday nights the trucks left to reach the factory where the snacks were made. We are speaking of four and a half million pieces every week. If the truck did not arrive, the production lines would stop… but fortunately, that never happened.

Millions of surprises
Every type of Mulino Bianco Surprise was made in at least one million copies. In some cases, for example Stringhe (strings), they were produced in 15 million pieces! Starting from the fist Little Surprise, that was called Carta vince, carta perde – card wins, card loses, 650 different ones were made in the span of the seven years during which the promotional operation lasted, until its end in 1990. During the first years, there were small boxes that contained little surprises and a personalized slip of paper with instructions. Starting from 1985 Piccolo Mugnaio Bianco (PMB), the Little White Miller created by Grazia Nidasio made its appearance on the boxes, and the gadgets began to be personalized with the PMB character as well. From the fourth year on, the little boxes disappeared and the Little Surprises were inserted in a flow-pack made of light blue plastic film decorated with white clouds, and later of yellow film with a drawing of the PMB character. Later, the bags, still bearing the PMB design, were made of paper. In 1989, a boxed series with the Ciao symbol of the mascot of the “Italy ‘90” World Cup sponsored by Barilla was designed. In 1990, the last year of the series, the gadgets became more voluminous in size and were diversified in color-coordinated sets. These were packed in larger bags. The Little Surprises had further developments later on.

Ideas in boxes
In addition to card games, there were games with paths and a metal ball, the Stringhe – Strings, the Origami, the Segnaidee –Idea markers shaped like a Crostatina tart,  card games (all the different regional Italian cards), the stencils, the erasers shaped like snacks and cookies.  Then there were the Scoubidou, the gadgets connected to the world of school like pencil sharpeners, wax pastels or small ballpoint pens, calendars, riddle games, and miniature books. There were games of shadow plays, those of scented colors, the miniature tape dispenser, the snakes and ladders game, the game of Fifteen, the clips, the miniature sundials, the lenses, the geographical maps, the fishing circus game, and so on. Over time, the gadgets were selected by the Marketing Office at Barilla, and the alternation of referents led to the creation of Little Surprises that were always different, now simpler now more complex, now more playful now more serious. Inside each little box, there was a leaflet with the name of the gadget and the instructions to play, that gave the extra touch to the entire promotional initiative. Each Little Surprise was created with love and infinite care for the smallest details, always in accord with a principle of coherence with the entire system of communication of Mulino Bianco.

The idea within the idea
It was the end of 1982. We had little boxes, and we were studying the production process of the first Little Surprises. The key element: Little Surprises, in addition to possessing all of the characteristics to be aligned to the world of Mulino Bianco, needed to have the largest possible mix in the snack packages, both for variety of games and for materials. However, something was missing…
We immediately realized that game instructions were necessary and that these could not be printed on the back of the little boxes, as it was too complicated to create personalized packs. And then, as Teresa Cattani said, who at the time was in charge of the development of the Mulino Bianco line, this way the children would recognize the game immediately and the surprise effect would be lost. In 1982, the first surprises that were experimented had a 6×3 cardboard leaflet printed in black on just one side with the instructions. However, it was sad and anonymous looking…
Many games were little known and some had been modified. For others like StringheStrings it was necessary to add something to give them additional charm. Something more was needed.
Then, the idea came. We placed a lively and colored leaflet in all of the boxes. On the front, there was the name of the game on a nice background color, and on the back the Mulino Bianco logo with messages like: There are many Little Surprises with fun games to play. Look for them in the Mulino Bianco snack boxes.
This thread held together the world of Little Surprises for years. A while ago, I made a phone call to the owner of the company in the province of Verona who printed the leaflets. He still remembered how he spent two months modifying a printing machine to make it possible two fold the leaflets in two, three or four folds (no more than four folds as it was impossible) directly in line. The printing rhythm was very high, at least four million pieces per week, and for several weeks the numbers were even higher.
The set up work for the aspect of graphic design was very complex because a large number of leaflets could be fitted on a machine sheet and it was necessary to be ready with the graphics of several Little Surprises at the same time.
Not all the Little Surprises had the leaflet, though, like Segnaidee – Idea marker and the Carte Piacentine –playing cards from Piacenza and other regional cards.