Friday, July 6, 2012

Where Have All the Mascots Gone?

As someone who loves pop culture, I'm particularly fond of advertising.  When done well, a commercial or ad can be an absolute work of art, even entering the American lexicon if it's catchy enough ("Where's the Beef?", "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," etc.)  But I especially adore commercial campaigns that feature a unique animated mascot (or "spokes-critter," if you will -- and I know you will).

Sadly, you just don't see as many product mascots as there were back in the golden olden days of my youth.  Or at least that's my perception, although I will allow that because I watch much less kid-oriented television than I did as, well, a kid, I'm no longer the target audience for those type of ads.  But still: Where have all the mascots gone?  Below, a few of my all-time faves.

1.  Milton the Toaster
Good old Milton was the spokes-toaster for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, a delicious little breakfast treat that I still enjoy today (original unfrosted strawberry remains my favorite).  I think Milton is a particularly ingenious mascot, as the obvious choice would have been to go with an animated (and no doubt singing and dancing) Pop-Tart, the actual product being advertised.  But instead, the good folks at Kellogg's opted to turn an everyday kitchen appliance into a character.  Gutsy, no?  And effective, because I gobbled those toaster pastries as a kid like nobody's business.  I miss Milton and wish he was on the airwaves once again.

2.  Fruit Pie the Magician
Fruit Pie the Magician was one of several mascots for Hostess snack cakes and pies (others were Twinkie the Kid, Captain Cupcake, Happy Ho Ho, and King Ding Dong).  The Hostess commercials of the 1970s were fabulous.  I especially loved the Ho Ho ads, because they featured animated kids kayaking down a chocolate river inside a gigantic Ho Ho (with their ever-faithful guide, Happy, leading the way), and the idea of encountering a larger-than-life pile of that amazing creamy white filling made my 5-year-old brain positively spin.  ("You wouldn't want to eat a whole bunch of the white stuff all at once," my mom said.  "You'd be sick of it after a couple bites."  LIES.  Crap then, and crap today, Mother.)  The Hostess gang was brought back for a special "retro wrapper" promotion in 2011 -- except for poor little Fruit Pie.  Why the oversight?  Is it because the other mascots represented snack cakes, and poor Fruit Pie's domain was the lowly pie?  Those icing-glazed fruit-filled turnovers are still incredibly delicious (I like cherry the best).  Just say no to pastry discrimination!  Bring back Fruit Pie the Magician!

3.  Punchy
Punchy is still the mascot for Hawaiian Punch today, but his personality has morphed quite a bit since the early days.  Once upon a time, Punchy's schtick consisted of walking up to unsuspecting folks and asking, "How about a nice Hawaiian punch?"  When the unaware individual answered, "Sure!" Punchy would quite literally punch them in the face.  Seriously.  Naturally, this very successful ad campaign resulted in many playground fistfights and horseplay, at least at my school.  And for the record, "But I was just being Punchy!" really didn't fly with the yard duty ladies.
As you can see, Punchy was kind of a dick.

4.  Chicken of the Sea Mermaid
They still depict this lovely lady on their cans today, although I prefer her earlier incarnations (they've since gotten rid of her awesome topknot and turned her scepter/spear into a wimpy little magic wand).  I ate a lot of tuna as a kid, and our house brand was always Chicken of the Sea, no doubt due to my early-onset mermaid obsession.  No Starkist or Bumblebee for us -- I was loyal to CotS.

Ask any mermaid
You happen to see
What's the best tuna?
Chicken of the Sea

 5.  Grimace
I was never really sure what exactly Grimace was supposed to be, but that purple amorphous blob was my favorite of the McDonaldland gang.  McDonalds commercials were huge during my childhood, and back then nobody had a hissy fit about companies marketing unhealthy products directly to children, their target consumers.  It was pretty much an advertising free-for-all.  I loved them all, from Mayor McCheese to the Hamburglar (who, looking back, was an unbelievably anti-Semitic caricature of a greedy stingy Jew, yikes), but Grimace held a special place in my heart.
Short, gray-haired old man with hooked nose who steals and hoards Filet-o-Fish sandwiches.  Vocabulary consists solely of incomprehensible and muttered "robble, robble, robble."  You make the call.

Going to McDonalds was a real treat when I was a kid, something you looked forward to and didn't do very often (once a month at the very most).  It was a big deal, and I relished every trip.  I've never been a fan of the current (and totally played out) "I'm Lovin' It" McDonalds campaign, but oh, how I adored the jingles of yesteryear, from "You Deserve a Break Today" to "Shamrock Shakes, They're a Beautiful Green."  I'm old, people -- I remember when they first introduced Chicken McNuggets, an event that totally rocked my childhood world.

For God's sake, I even owned an official McDonaldland playset, complete with action figures and a wind-up train.  It was boss.  And I had the Playskool McDonalds, too, which was also unbelievably cool.  It had little trays of food and the employees all wore those awesome hats.  Where have all the fast-food employee hats gone?  Hot Dog on a Stick is one of the only holdouts.
The Playskool McDonalds.  See the pointy little hats?

I'd like to see how modern parents (all around my age, incidentally) would utterly freak out if a fast-food chain came out with retail toys for kids today that were sold in stores.  Can you imagine?

Do I love any of the advertising mascots of today?  Hard to say, as I don't watch much in the way of kids' TV programming (except for Cartoon Network and Boomerang, which totally rock).  There doesn't seem to be as many spokes-critters as in yesteryear, though.  And instead of selling fries, last time I saw Ronald McDonald he was preaching about healthy lifestyles and the importance of exercise.  I understand that McDonalds has agreed to stop targeting children under 12 altogether, and the rest of the McDonaldland posse appears to have vanished entirely.  I'll miss those guys.  It's years later, and they didn't turn me into an obese adult fast-food junkie.  I'm just sayin'.

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree with you. I don't think that fast food or junk food mascots have to be so politically correct. I mean, we're not idiots....they're not representing healthy foods in the first place Though, I'd never realized about Mayor McCheese! . I think my favorite mascots were Tony the Tiger and that big Kool-Aid pitcher.