I was never a big “cereal kid” growing up. I mean, I’ve certainly had my fair share of chomping the classics like Fruit Loops, Trix, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (my personal favorite). But it was never a morning routine for me. When it comes to General Mill’s classic Monster Cereals, would you believe I only had my first bowl back in 2016?! It was Boo Berry. A true-blue delight. Followed by FrankenBerry. Still to this day I’ve never had Count Chocula. GASP. I treat cereal like candy. A sweet reward to have once in a while. Definitely not a morning routine. I’d like to keep my teeth, thank you.
Regardless, I’m all about cereal mascots especially when they’re classic monsters. I always pick up a box or two of Booberry and/or Frankenberry come Halloween time. I decided to draw two of the head honchos this season in a blocky wrinkly fashion. I drew these with Instagram in mind. The presentation of a square being the concept. The monsters being “smashed” into your viewing portal. They’ve gotten an excellent response so I decided to give them the ‘ol sticker treatment. You can click the image below to view them and give them a stick if you’d like:
Even though I’m no cereal connoisseur, I still love the bright boxes, mascots, and prizes. Oddly, cereal has become a bit of a Halloween tradition for me in the form of the Monster Cereals. In fact, I even won this year’s giveaway of Monster figures! Excited about that! So thanks for checking out my art and I hope everyone has a safe and spooktacular Halloween. Have a bowl of Count Chocula for me. Because I know I won’t.
Besides attending school, my primary extracurricular activity as a child was begging my mom for WWF magazine within our local Walgreens and Osco. Does any institution represent small town americana more accurately than the “corner” drugstore? A near necessity located in Anytown, USA providing simple goods with a helpful smile in every aisle. Perhaps it’s been romanticized over the decades via Andy Griffith or Norman Rockwell. Regardless, the drug store of yesteryear may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the idea is. These stores were a convenient necessity to our daily routine and was often the first place I’d get a taste of my favorite holiday: Halloween.
Over the recent years, I’ve come to feel nostalgic for these “corner drug stores” of all things. It’s not surprising considering most of my childhood establishments have been reduced to empty lots and condominiums. This forces my mind to peel away the obvious nostalgic layers to unearth some truly pure unfiltered personal nostalgia long since buried. Memories that existed, yet laid to rest, but slowly creeping up and bursting out of my mind-soil. Once risen, I’m hit with a rich old-found Thriller-dance of nostalgic thoughts. The type of memories that breed silly pointless articles. No one can escape the evil of the Thriller after all!
So this season, I decided to return to some of the drug stores that, unknowingly, made my Halloween a bit more magical. To haunt that seasonal aisle once again and document their spooky offerings in 2022. The appeal of the American drugstore is convenience. So throw on your coziest hoodie and let’s conveniently crunch along the leaf-covered block to the corner drugstore. I’ll buy you a pop.
I visited two drug stores: the first being Jewel-Osco. A Chicagoland grocery store chain that has existed for as long as Halloween itself. I’ve spent countless hours of my childhood at “The Jewels”, much to my dismay, with the only other store competing being my local K-Mart. These days, I actually enjoy my Jewel trips as it evokes a sense of comforting nostalgia. Mainly because Jewel hasn’t changed. From the store layout to the logo, grocery bags, smells, and employee uniforms. Even the dated intercom voice announcing sales and grocery code garble. I truly believe Jewel peaked in 1981 and thought, as a collective company, “we’re good. Let’s stay here.”
Entering through Osco drug, the “seasonal” aisle glowing a familiar orange greeted me with open skeleton arms. One side full of spooky assorted party favors and decor while the other a towering wall of limitless fun-size candy. You know how it is. “It Must’ve Been Love” by Roxette echoed throughout the aisle, confirming that Jewel indeed hasn’t changed in decades. Yet…neither have I. And I don’t want either of us to.
As previously mentioned, the drugstore was often the first place I’d get a taste of Halloween. Grocery shopping with my mother come September, there was a certain expected brew bubbling inside me as our cart neared the seasonal aisle. Turning a corner and seeing bags of candy, rubber bats, and plastic jack o’lanterns was mere confirmation of what we all knew was coming…yet it was still exciting to see it was finally here.
Understand that the Halloween aisle offered here isn’t anything spectacular. It never was. Yet the same Halloween aisles of my childhood seemed more thorough. Could be a case of rose tinted glasses, but these offerings always served as a mere kickoff to the season. I always enjoyed the simplicity of it: The often present generic icons of Halloween such as the witch, ghost, black cat, or vampire. Not to mention the ever-present cutesy window decals and plastic bags of fake spiderwebs.
But nothing screams “Halloween” more than some cheap drugstore masks and makeup kits. The past 2 years these have been absent from the aisles entirely. I’m not surprised at this decision, but I’m still bummed to see this tradition dry up. Michael Myers always grabs his mask from a local drugstore after all! I guess he’ll have to settle for a paper bag this year.
I suppose Walgreens has become “America’s Drugstore” since Mom and Pop’s were effectively taken out back and put out of their misery decades ago. The Walgreens of my childhood was quite literally on the corner and although I’m not as fond of it today as The Jewels, I have positive memories nonetheless. Walgreens was a place where I obtained most of my then music library (including a couple spooky Halloween soundtracks) which was found on a spinning counter rack carrying cassette singles. I’ve also decided what to be for Halloween a few times during a trip to my local Walgreens as I recollect their decent amount of kids costumes and accessories back in the day. These days, the only time I find myself in a Walgreens drugstore is during the Halloween season.
But that’s not an insult, as the drugstore has some pretty cool stuff. It has a lot of classic standbys (like Ghostface masks, candy corn, and pumpkin carving kits) as well as a lot of licensed stuff from Disney and various horror films. They seemed like they weren’t fully stocked just yet, but there was enough to oogle and make some impulse buys. I especially loved the plush horror “waddlers” as they literally harass you while playing music at the touch of a button. Oddly enough, there was no Chucky…who seems to be perfect for this line.
Walgreens also had a great variety of Halloween novelty candy. I’m not talking about the 8 lbs sacks you buy for the trick or treaters, but the ones you grab for yourself as a sugary impulse. Little plastic monsters that “poop” candy pellets, Skeleton flashlight tubes holding sweets, gummy vampire fangs, and spooky pez dispensers just to name a few. Speaking of, I had to get a little something during my journey:
Remember Nestle Wonderball? It was a plastic “egg” holding a prize, covered in chocolate, and wrapped in foil. Well, these are called “YOWIE”s and they’re basically the same thing but cooler. They look like monsters from Sesame Street (I chose “Rumble” and “Crag”) and they hold little plastic figures of animals with cool “super powers”, along with a scroll explaining how freaky these guys are.
I was honestly expecting a figure of the monster I chose, but this turned out to be better in every way. I loved that it turned into a learning experience and focused on creepy critters. It took me back to the days of Zoobooks and Animal Planet (back when it was thoughtful and educational and not just shows about Bigfoot becoming a Lawyer or something) . These candies originate from Australia, as I assumed they were foreign because they were educational, and I’ll definitely be picking some of these up during those monotonous grocery trips.
These drug stores were mere pit stops along the way to something more interesting, yet I now look back at them with a collective fondness. The joy the Halloween season brought me became more apparent within these simple stores. As my mother picked up some quick essentials, I recall persuading her for a pair of plastic vampire fangs or a rubber glow-in-the-dark skeleton. Involuntarily taking in that rubbery smell when thumbing through a short rack of cheap plastic “smock” costumes. Wondering what I would go as during my school’s halloween party as I’d haunt the small collection of bargain masks and makeup kits. As the kids say, It was a vibe…little did I know at the time.
The Halloween season, in itself, celebrates monsters, mystery, and macabre. In our modern society, it’s become a tradition of gratuitous amounts of fun-size candy, overpriced superhero costumes, and obnoxiously long lines for haunted houses. And, like Abraham Lincoln lighting a deep fried bottle rocket, it’s undeniably American…for better or worse.
Tradition is inseparable from nostalgia. Take Dracula and his casket or Dr. Frankenstein and the monster, you can’t have one without the other. As each new Halloween season approaches, I harken back to those of yesteryear. There was never any extravagance among my favorite Halloween memories. It was something as simple as taking in neighborhood decorations with my mother, attending my school’s fall fest with some friends, or strolling the Halloween aisle of our local drugstore like we just did.
And I believe that’s a big reason why Halloween has always remained special to me: it’s what you make of it. And Halloween doesn’t have the overwhelming pressure of, say, a Birthday, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. It’s the only holiday where you can watch Ghoulies Go To College alone while downing an entire bag of fun-size snickers and it’s considered time well spent.
Writing this article dredged up another fond Halloween memory: I was about 15 years old. An age where you’re considered “too old” for the usual Halloween traditions…yet “too young” to partake in any new ones. It was a growing realization that Halloween was just becoming another day. That “childhood” aspect of it losing its spark. Sensing my depression, my mom and cousin went to the local drug store and purchased some cheap plastic halloween masks and we all went trick or treating that evening.
I remember walking down the block in my Spider-man costume and seeing a bunch of children with smiles and jack o’lanterns of candy in hand. My natural reaction was almostfeeling embarrassed for myself. I’m too old. I look so stupid. I thought to myself. But I turned back and saw my mom and cousin dressed in their spooky slap-dashed costumes, newly acquired masks adorned, giddy and excited gripping old treat bags. It was somewhat of an epiphany.
There’s no age limit to Halloween. You can outgrow Halloween, but it doesn’t outgrow you.
So this season, make sure to celebrate with a childish mindset. Harken back to those magical Halloweens of yesteryear. And if you never had one, there’s no better time to make one. We’re not here for long after all. So take those you cherish to celebrate with the spooks before we all become some.
If interested in some other related spooky offerings, here’s an episode of my podcast where my best friend and I peruse Jewel for Halloween goodies!
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.