Welcome back to Ad Nauseam: never ending articles inspecting promotions of yesteryear found in between the “Biff”s and “Pow”s of clearance rack comics.
Please send help.
Tonight we crack open the capitalistic corpse of ALF #23 released December 1989.
ALF (Alien Life Form) was a Marvel comic series based off the television show of the same name. It ran for a surprisingly successful 50 issues (1988-1992), actually exceeding the lifespan of the show. ALF tells the story of Gordon Shumway, an alien from an extinct planet that crash lands in suburban California. He’s discovered and reluctantly “adopted” by a wholesome nuclear family as sitcom shenanigans and laugh tracks ensue. The show was like a fusion of Full House and Garfield complete with 80s sitcom cheese, cat references, food binging, all centering around a family named The Tanners.
On a personal note, ALF was one of my favorite shows as a child. Being raised on Muppets, anything involving puppets immediately caught my attention. And in his prime, ALF was a merchandising machine as his face was slapped on coloring books, lunchboxes, and everything in between.
Which brings me to the focus of tonight’s article…
I’ve spent too much time building these virtual monuments to 30+ year old junk food and mailaway trading cards. A driving force behind diving into these ads isn’t nostalgia alone…but the realization that I’m part of a bygone era I’m calling The Lost Art of the Mascot. For better or worse.
There’s a reason why I’m so fondly in love with the Mcdonald’s of yesteryear. Or how I’ll gush over sugary cereal boxes and the return of “throwback” labels on the same old products. The Trix Rabbit! Toucan Sam! Scrubbing Bubbles! The Noid! Mrs. Butterworth! As a child I loved the Energizer Bunny and Chester Cheetah. What they were bussing was moot (or so I thought), yet they turned out to be the reason why I wanted Cheetos in my lunch and Energizer batteries in my talking Robocop. If you’re in your late thirties you CAN’T look me in the GOSH DANG eyes and tell me you didn’t eat raisins because of the CALIFORNIA RAISINS singing on your television! Don’t lie to me this isn’t my FIRST RODEO!
This is a brilliant marketing strategy that, I would say, peaked throughout the 1960s-1990s. Take a mundane product and pair it with a bright lively marketable character that would appeal to children. This is most common with cereal (as we’ll see tonight) but expanded far beyond to everything from batteries to cleaning supplies. It’s a strategy that cements a brand and creates a brainworm in future customers based on recognition. It’s planting the seeds of consumption in young malleable selfish minds and might just be considered evil. But, boy, does it work!
It’s fitting that I found these ads in an ALF comic. Yet another character created with a big
marketable lovable personality full of quippy one liners and sarcasm. Almost as if the priority was merchandising over actual quality. Huh. Well that can’t be…can it? So let’s travel back to the last gasp of the 1980’s with ALF #23 and quietly ask ourselves why is this December released comic themed around Fall?
Trix and Lucky Charms Word Games!
These ads are a great example of how to make your mascot appear as more than just a vapid salesman. Both of these full page ads are games first and ads second. Kids know when they’re being marketed to, so to literally make a game out of your product is a way to get attention without your little consumer even realizing you’re getting your sugar soaked fingerprints all over their fresh malleable mind. You engage your audience. The cereal and logo take up little of the illustration, making the mascots the main focus besides the game itself. It’s a way to get kids to “help” the characters (they look distressed afterall) and connect with them. Appeal to emotions. The games center around the themes of the cereal and names so it’s easy to identify next time you’re at the grocery store. If you play this fun game with these characters in your monthly comics, you’d be more than willing to beg mom for their cereal. I felt a loyalty to these characters, therefore, I wanted their cereal over, say, Corn Pops or Frosted Mini Wheat.
Also I love how Lucky the Leprechaun is relaxing in his cozy home with an offering of a perfectly balanced breakfast (did anybody really partake in orange juice and milk?) and the Trix Rabbit is cornered in some gritty back alley (also is the pencil oversized or is the Trix rabbit truly that small?). Through engaging ads like this, you might actually look forward to them popping up in your comic book. Imagine that! Soon Trix and Lucky could mean more to you than just breakfast cereal, but in turn, Trix and Lucky Charms might be the first brands that spring to mind when getting some sugary trash to shovel in your gullet at 7 am. Magically delicious? Or Implemented strategically delicious?
Nestle Quik Hop Shop!
It’s pretty incredible how some of these ads can work on a young mind. I haven’t seen a Nestle Quik commercial in decades and haven’t drank it in probably over 25 years, yet I still remember that Quik bunny suckin’ that gloop up while his long ears twisted around as if he were in the middle of some sort of powdery orgazmic trance.
Here we have an example of being “rewarded” with stuff you don’t need for consuming junk that will hurt you. Today, this practice of marketing has been (mostly) dropped across the board as it shouts “blind vapid consumerism” and can direct your child onto the road of diabetes and obesity all in the name of a Quik Bunny Plastic Mug. If you delve back into comics of the 1960s and 70s, you’d find similar “reward” programs using points to earn prizes aimed at children. These points were earned through, essentially, a pyramid scheme: Want a kite or magic set? Sell a certain amount of magazine subscriptions (for example). You could earn up to a bicycle! Though marketing like this “Hop Shop” ad truly reflects the consumeristic junkie mindframe that permeated the 1980’s: Eat to earn. Buy our products and earn cool prizes adorning our logo. It’s a pretty bold and confident move when you think about it.
It sounds like John Carpenter’s They Live in a way. Mostly because, in a way, it is. That movie had to come from somewhere, right?
Okay, so I’m being cynical. I previously touched on a similar tactic with Kool-Aid. And there’s tons just like this. I don’t look down on anyone who was into this. Mostly because I know for a 100% fact, I’d partake in this if I didn’t have such a strictly-budgeted mother growing up. The bendable Quik Bunny and Plush Bunny are calling my name. Then I’d probably go for the t-shirt and some “hot shades”. That ice pop maker and mug are swell too. I didn’t even drink Nestle Quik much, but I loved the fun design of the Bunny from the commercials. I liked him. Which was the point. They got me hook, line, and sinker. I delve into this stuff because I fall for it.
I actually sought out some of the prizes being offered here through eBay and paired them with the image above. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that Quik Bunny mug at almost every flea market I’ve ever been to. Also, do you notice the 1950’s aesthetic in this ad? The music notes, “Hop Shop” logo design, and the way the Bunny talks? The 1950’s Americana fascination was only 30+ years ago at this point in time. The people making these ads were nostalgic for their era. For instance, what era do you see today so firmly replicated throughout marketing in pop culture? Ah, that’s right, the 1980’s. Which is only 30+ years ago at this point in time. Where does the time go?
Mr. Bubble’s Tub Tales!
Man, when was the last time you took a bubble bath? Is taking a bubble bath just a kid thing? Why? I remember always seeing sexy women taking bubble baths in movies, but that was usually because it was PG and they needed to cover up their body. Why can’t a middle aged construction worker come home from a hard day’s work to a nice bubble bath? Can we normalize that? Anyway…
The “mini-comic” ad you’d find in comic books is a classic tactic. In fact, I wouldn’t mind doing that for a living. Here we get a short tale featuring Mother callin’ in the kiddos after having a fun-filled dirty play day only to *GASP* be excited to take a bath?! That’s right, kids, because Mr. Bubble makes getting clean almost as much fun as getting dirty! I love the admittance of saying “almost”. They’re just being honest. It’s not more fun or even as fun apparently. But the fun doesn’t have to stop in the bath! Because Mr. Bubble’s got them tees and sweaters to rock on your clean bubbleless bod. And a f**king WATCH?! A Mr. Bubbles Watch?! I wish I could’ve met someone wearing a Mr. Bubbles watch in the wild. Like, who are they? What is their story? How are they doing?
Regardless, this advertisement intertwines the idea of the main product (being bubble bath..er-uh..stuff) supplemented with the idea of wearing the brand out of your pure enjoyment for it. Whereas the Nestle Quik branded swag was based on “earning” it. Mr. Bubble just wants to be friends, bro. An adult sized shirt cost $4.95 in December of 1989. With inflation (plus $1 for S&H) that comes out to $13.49 in 2022. Not to shabby considering most tees cost around $27 shipped these days. Also notice the inclusion of adult sized clothing (as well as that rad watch). Mr. Bubble was a brand founded in 1961, nearly 30 years of business at the time. It’s appealing to nostalgia. Your kid would see it and might want one and there’s an off chance that you might too…seeing as you might have grown up with Mr. Bubble as well. That marketing practice is super common today as nostalgia has become almost the go-to route for marketing towards adults.
And, yes, I managed to go to Mr. Bubble’s website. And, yes, they sell shirts and little Mr. Bubble dolls. And, yes, I’m internally struggling with not buying them.
I always bring up throughout these Ad Nauseum articles how you no longer see ads for sugary snack cakes, candy, or tooth rotting “juice” drinks marketed towards children anymore; much less rewarding them with prizes for consuming them. Commercials don’t have the same imagination and charm as they used to either. When was the last time you saw Ronald dicking around in Mcdonaldland? Or Captain Crunch recklessly sailing his ship into a kitchen under the influence of crunchberries? Or Kool Aid man carelessly bursting through drywall? Lumber costs have skyrocketed you giant pitcher abomination.
And, in all honesty, it’s for the best. These mascots still exist but they’re minimal and present for posterity. Whenever they are used, it’s sparingly to appeal to a time where you’d eat this trash and not feel like it. As a society we’ve become much more conscious of what’s in our food and the benefits of it. I believe we’ve broken a marketing cycle and caused a shift towards a more healthy and transparent approach. It may no longer involve a colorful talking toucan or collecting proofs of purchase for a glow-in-the-dark yo-yo…but it benefits us long term. I can definitely see a day in my lifetime where all these mascots are distant memories. Where some 78 year old’s suspiciously hairy ears perk up as we’d recall “Cheesasaurus Rex” over overpriced space-lattes on Planet Starbucks.
Regardless, I am fond of this stuff. These colorful faces that greeted me on Saturday mornings and in between the pages of my favorite superhero adventures. The excitement I felt digging through sugary cereal I convinced my mom I needed just for the toy inside. Looking at the cookies baking in the oven to see if the Pillsbury Doughboy would actually pop up and greet me. It could be the time and place that gets me. But it’s also the marketing itself. It’s genuine nostalgia for something that was strategically planned and meticulously implemented by a boardroom of rich business tycoons. So undeniably American. But when you look at things that way…it kinda sucks the fun and wonder out of life.
Although the Art of the Mascot is indeed lost and I truly can’t think I’m better off for being apart of it, I can at least look back at it through the eyes of a child and smile. In a lot of cases ignorance is bliss afterall. Thanks for thumbing in between the action of old comics and reminiscing with me. You’ll always find “insight” into comfy comic culture here on ChrisDoesComics.