Donald Tennant, the advertising executive who created Tony the Tiger in 1952 for cereals giant Kellogg’s, has died aged 79.

Born in Sterling, Illinois, in 1921, Tennant served as a naval lieutenant during the Second World War, after which he moved to Chicago and became a writer and producer for radio.

In 1950, he joined advertising agency Leo Burnett to work in various roles, from copywriter, composer, artist and commercial director to advertising strategist, before becoming its chief creative officer. During his career, Tennant worked on advertising campaigns for food giants such as NestléPillsbury’s Green Giant, Keebler, Campbell’ Soup and Procter & Gamble.

Tony the Tiger was created in 1952 as just one of a number of cartoon characters that would be used to make Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes appeal to children. The company soon realised however that boxes sporting Tony were more popular than those with pictures of the elephant, kangaroo or gnu characters, and the tiger became the sole ambassador for the cereal, which is now called Frosties and ranks as the company’s best-selling cereal.

Originally Tony had a round head and dark green eyes, and he wore a red bandanna around his neck. Since those days, however, the character has adopted the “They’re gr-r-reat!!!” slogan and become more angular.

Once asked whether it bothered him that the Frosties packet did not carry his name, Tennant reportedly replied: “It doesn’t bother me that the box doesn’t say, ‘Tony the Tiger by Don Tennant’.

“He still helped build my house.”