Mildly Interesting Print Ads of the '80s! Posted by Matt, 7/10/05.
I've collected -- and by collected I mean both "kept forever" and "tracked down in recent years" -- many a fine magazine from the days of my youth. From learning how to draw Mantennae's eyes properly from The Masters of the Universe Magazine to finding out what Outlaw Ron Bass did went he wasn't spur-fucking his opponents' heads from WWF Magazine, these are the pages I learned the most from. I've lovingly read each and every one dozens, hundreds of times by now; the surprises are gone, but interviews with ALF and brainteasers penned by Casey Jones never seem to get tiring.
I could spend days sharing the weird articles, cultural trend highlights and goofy, fan-drawn art of Croc Master and Teela with you, but I don't have that kind of time. Instead, we'll focus on the real reason I'm always taking a look at these filthy piles of tree murder: Great old ads. I've told you about hundreds of television commercials from yesteryear by now, but even without the jingles, flashy spinning graphics and motion video, the print ads were often just as fun. Pulled from a score of children's mags from the mid to late '80s, here are just a few of my favorites...
WWF Superstars of Wrestling Ice Cream Bars: These are actually still in production, but without the cool red box and the chance to eat Junkyard Dog's head, it's not the same. WWF Ice Cream Bars were legendarily good, must-eaten by every wrestling fan (as far as kids went, there were a lot of them back then) and tasty enough even for people who thought Hulk Hogan was green and 700 pounds to try out. Attached to the standard popsicle stick, the layers of cookie, vanilla ice cream and chocolate teamed up to kick everyone's ass much like the victors in any six-man tag match.
I was a wrestling fan, big time, so the enjoyment ran a bit deeper for me. See, there were a dozen or more different wrestlers pictured on the bars, and until buying one and opening the box, you never knew who'd you be eating. Since there were surely crappy wrestlers immortalized in the mix along with the more awesome grapplers, I used to get this big giant bodyslam of adrenaline just before opening 'em up. Who would it be? Who would it be?!
There were a couple of different print ads to follow the television ad, this one featuring one of wrestling's all-time great managers, "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart. Jimmy's still around in some form, but his role on-camera has steadily decreased through the years. In his glory days, Jimmy would shout things to his proteges with a megaphone during matches, and since he was a bad guy, the megaphone would end up smashed against a hero's head in roughly 7 matches out of every 10. It was great. Hart's wrestlers could've been trapped against the most boring opponents ever in total bathroom break matches, but so long as that megaphone was in sight, how could you look away? If Hogan was your hamburger, seeing someone get whacked with Jimmy Hart's megaphone were the fries.
Pogo Bal: I recognize the style of the company logo shown above as belonging to the primary players of the craze, but holy damn, the fact that they left an "l" off "ball" completely slipped out of my brain and moved to another city. Course, a "Pogo Bal" is still a pogo ball -- popular opinion is 9/10ths -- and yes, it truly was one of the time's biggest crazes. Skewed for the younger kids, yes, but you could kind of consider these the previous generation's hackey sack.
Wait -- is it hackey or hacky? This just proves the connection: Bal or ball!
The ad tries to present pogo balls as a fad akin in greatness to the widespread hula hoop mania of the '50s. I wouldn't go that far, but everyone I knew had one. Personally, I could never master the art. I'd hop on the thing, get it to tilt like a planet that decided to move all of its gravitational energy to the left, and end up scraping my knee and hoping I'd bleed enough to justify the tearful tantrum. Whatever I was doing, it wasn't what my friends could do. They'd use their pogo balls like a bike, bouncing from our block to the schoolyard without breaking a sweat. I used to lie to get out of joining in -- either my pogo ball "popped," went missing or was stolen from our backyard. In reality, it sat in my bedroom closet, on top of a pile of hardcore mags stolen from my father (Go Dad!) and a couple of other things I didn't want anyone knowing I had. Den of sin, that closet.
G.I. Joe "The Fridge" Action Figure Offer: The amount of mail-in offers and strange, exclusive figures put forth by Hasbro for the G.I. Joe line was incredible. What many don't realize is how far such offers went in creating kid loyalty. Really important figures like the "hooded" Cobra Commander and a host of others were available through such offers, and we gobbled 'em up like plastic candy. After sending our proofs-of-purchases in along with whatever small amount of shipping money, we'd spend 6-8 weeks eating, breathing and sleeping G.I. Joe. When kids are expecting something in the mail, it's all they can possibly think about. This is evidenced on a Phonics test I took in third grade...
Question #6: Smiling is to Happy as Frowning is to _____.
Answer: WAIT MISTA POSTMAN
The promotion for William "The Refrigerator" Perry's very own G.I. Joe figure was one of the more popular entries, and probably one of the weirdest. He didn't segue into the world of anti-terrorist grenade launchers quite as well as Sgt. Slaughter, but the championed football player's action figure made good in two special ways: It came with a football-shaped mace, and it kept his missing teeth intact. For Fridge, it was all about realistic escapism. That crazy walking dichotomy.
Though many of the mail-offered figures were later sold in stores, nothing beat the original thrill. Aside from all the heart-pumping moments at home, there were 3:1 odds that, when visiting a friend's house to make your figures battle his, he'd look at your exclusive figure, get jealous and make you go home. The only thing better than a day of fun play coming to an end is making friends so jealous they can't even be in the same house as you.
The Freedom Stick: A third-party video game controller primarily intended for the Nintendo Entertainment System but applicable to a bunch more, this "Freedom Stick" seems tightly based on Nintendo's own "Advantage" controller -- that being the big, bulky, joystick-driven beast that so many gamers loved to death. I never really understood the attraction -- I couldn't play half as good with that giant monster. Still, there's no denying that it had many fans, so if Camerica was gonna rip off a video game controller, it may as well have been that one.
The big coup here was that the controller was of the battery-operated wireless variety. Too big or too small, that feature just rocks. When the wireless NES controllers started hitting the market (literally, like with hammers), we already had years worth of experience training ourselves to get maximum comfort with those long-but-never-long-enough black wires. With a wireless controller, we'd have Thomas planting feet in Mr. X's face from anywhere in the room.
Plus, wireless controllers eliminated one of the worst fears of any old school gamer, back in a time when there weren't save points at every level's end. If you had a Nintendo, surely you've experienced this: You're playing. You're getting really, really far in a game that you usually suck at. Your friends are over, and they're cheering you on through Cheeto-stained teeth. One of them decides that this would be the best time possible to take a piss break, successfully tripping over the controller wire, yanking the Nintendo off its resting place, dislodging the plug and ruining 3-4 hours of your most impressive work. I don't know that kid's name, but you should fucking kill him.
PS: The Freedom Stick had a "rapid fire" button mode. Its creators were obviously fans of Contra.
Battle Beasts: Presenting, the most detailed, most intense and most loved of all the "little figures" of the 1980s. Battle Beasts, debuting in Japan as a very strained offshoot of Transformers, soon made its way to the States and quickly grabbed the hearts of kids-with-a-dick. While I was more into the tiny pink wrasslers from M.U.S.C.L.E., these were an infinitely more high-end affair.
Wood! Water! Fire! Each Battle Beast belonged to one of the elemental teams, designated by a rub-sign sticker on their chest. It was a bit like Rock, Paper, Scissors: Wood beat Water, but Fire beat Wood, but Water Beat Fire. Get it? Teams are fun, but the collection's real coup was in the design of the figures themselves, each with poseable arms, a meticulous paint job, tiny weapons and more. Each was loosely based on some real-life animal (in some cases, several animals), primarily sold in two-packs for just a little less than a He-Man figure.
Whereas the figures in most small-scale lines seemed to blend together and lose their individual appeal, Battle Beasts were just as detailed as the big guys. As such, they've become pretty expensive on the collectors' market, meaning you'd have to be waaay into 'em to part ways with the amount of cash necessary to start a decent collection. I'd rather leave them in my memories, where wood-loving owls didn't give a hoot about water-bred whitefish and kicked their ass all over our living room.
The Archies Love FruitSlush: FruitSlush was KING. Fruit-related snacks were one of the best contributions of the '80s, with everything from Fruit Wrinkles to the amazing Fruit Bars (picture a bunch of fruit rolls compacted into a candy bar shape) bending our will and shaping our stomachs for a better, more bloated tomorrow. But with the Wrinkles and the Bars, those were an everyday affair. They went in our lunch boxes daily, and soon, we took 'em for granted. FruitSlush was different. Every time we ate it, we knew we were the luckiest bastards in God's green processing plant.
So what was it? Not sold in the freezer section, the warm containers of FruitSlush would only gain their icy powers after spending a night next to your mother's frozen chicken. The end result was a different kind of water ice: Thicker, sweeter and with gorgeously hard chunks trapped inside mounds of fruit-flavored goo. They came in a bunch of flavors, cherry of course being the bestest. For children who didn't grow up in an overly health-conscious household, FruitSlush all but defined "palatable." Here, the Archies take on the great task of getting the word out, performing various voodoo dance rituals all in the name of the icy treat that can't be beat.
Visionaries: Great concept, great toys, misfired execution. Visionaries are completely under-appreciated, but with a cartoon so determined to go over kids' heads and a comic book that did more of the same, the line never took off in a big way. Pity, because the figures were just aces. A hair larger than a G.I. Joe figure, each mystical, armored warrior had some kind of totem animal deal, represented by a holographic shield on their chest that'd reveal whatever animal they felt kinship with. On the cartoon, this was a bigger deal: They'd actually turn into those animals.
The commercials were great, and that's usually enough to keep a good line afloat for a few "seasons," but even despite the public's obsession with holograms at the time, Visionaries only enjoyed a quick, quiet and decidedly modest success. It's pretty much the same story with Super Naturals, another hologram-gimmicked toy line from around the same time. Both collections looked great and charmed the heck out of me, but for whatever reason, kids at large just glossed over 'em like the "Letters to the Editor" section of a Marvel comic. Shame.
There's one upside. Visionaries aren't exceedingly easy to find, but when you do find 'em, they'll usually come cheap. This particular print ad didn't help the cause, mixing an Arthurian/Dungeons & Dragons font with vague images of a menacing bear. The "Knights of the Magical Light" deserved more attention than they got, and if any of you collectors are seeking new corners of the toy universe to conquer, you could do worse than these dudes.
Transformers "Pretenders" Figures: The original, original Transformers were golden. Then the movie came, and even if some fans dropped out in the wake of so many beloved characters dying/morphing into new characters, there was still plenty of juice left in the franchise. Still, the combination of the very strange and somewhat off-putting post-movie cartoon episodes and the fact that kids had exhausted their interest in the line took Transformers down the ladder of contention very, very quickly. Hasbro wouldn't give up without a fight -- they'd set records with sales for the line and refused to believe the gravy train was out of coal.
When that happens to a toy line, the company usually turns to insane gimmicks. In a franchise where there were already so many gimmicks, that manifestation is even worse. Transformers "Pretenders" are a good example. Not sure how the general fan populace feels about this particular subgroup, but from my experiences, the toys were just awful. You'd get these bulky, cheap plastic human "shells" that split open to reveal regular Transformers that couldn't hold a candle to the ones that came before. Yes, in theory, each toy was really two toys, but if both suck, there's no reason to start singing in the rain.
Of course, a couple of the Pretender figures were worth buying, but by and large, it was just another in a long string of failed TF resurrections. Only after years of relative dormancy was the franchise ready to strike back and engage a new generation, and thankfully, a combination of great cartoons and creative toys have made today's Transformers just as thrilling as the originals. Well, almost. They're like halfway there.
Jell-O Gelatin Pops: Not that Jell-O Gelatin Pops needed to give away toys -- they were super popular -- but LEGO certainly benefited from the boosted advertising. It was just a simple deal where you'd send in the proof-of-purchase for one of the smaller sets, and while that's nice and all, it's not why I've included the ad in this article.
See, like you, I enjoyed Jell-O Gelatin Pops. I really did. If it wasn't a Jell-O Pudding Pop, it was a Jell-O Gelatin Pop. They were brother and sister, taking turns having sex with my mouth . Aside from taste and the materials involved, the two kinds of Jell-O pops had one major difference.
With Jell-O Pudding Pops, it was an all-box affair. Yeah, the chocolate/vanilla swirl ruled the roost, but you weren't going to whine and complain about the plain vanilla versions, much less the plain chocolate versions. So long as the box wasn't empty, you were happy.
With Jell-O Gelatin Pops, it worked a bit differently. Certain flavors were amazing -- they're the ones that keep the pops in our memories for all these years. Others, well...hmmm...others...not so good. There was one type that still makes me sick just thinking about it. I don't know what flavor it was intended to be -- the pops were lavender in color, but they weren't exactly grape-flavored. I knew better than to pick a lavender Gelatin Pop, but when the box had nothing but those left, sometimes hunger got the better of me. Every time I tried to eat one of the things, I'd feel all sick and nauseous, curse everything purple and have to down a dozen Saltines just to skirt having a major episode.
Jell-O Gelatin Pops debuted in 1981, and throughout their long life, there were different mixes of flavors. Whatever that cursed lavender pop was meant to be, it seems to have only been around for a short while -- sadly, my while. I will take my hatred of lavender food to the grave because of that pop, and not even a LEGO Formula-1 racer set will make me feel any better about it.
Photon: I understand that Lazer Tag probably struck a bit harder than Photon, but I was always a loyalist to the latter. This isn't for any other reason than the fact that Photon was the set I got on some long ago Christmas. Had it been Lazer Tag, I'd be a completely different person today.
Actually, I didn't get it -- my brother did. See, the light gun phenomenon was really, really huge. So huge that it crossed any age barriers the world of toys may have set up. It was chic, it was in, it was HOT. The sets were extremely expensive when they debuted (a far cry from the major drop in price down the line), making them one of the decade's most extravagant gifts. And my brother got the whole friggin' smorgasbord -- the guns, the chest thingies, the helmets, the targets...everything. My jaw hit the floor when he opened that box, in part with amazement, but mostly with furious rage because he'd already moved out of the house. Him living elsewhere meant only one thing to me: I wouldn't get to borrow that Photon set.
Miraculously, he forgot it at home. He'd called and mentioned it, but as you'd expect, he never got the Photon set back. That baby was all mine, and I loved it. I still remember that terrible noise the gun made whenever someone successfully shot my ass. Rounds of Photon were the most physically intense experiences of my childhood, which doesn't say much about the physicality of my childhood, but hey, if you handed me a gun tomorrow and pointed to a bird overhead, I'd blow that fucker out of the sky in one shot. All because of Photon.
Sunkist Fun Fruits: Hearts, love, dolphins, sunshine, blue skies, fresh air, picnics, beaches, glory, sunflowers, art, yummy. All words delivered to the sensory organs by way of a pack of Sunkist Fun Fruits. I've mentioned this in another article and won't regurgitate, but good Christ, they do NOT make fruit snacks like they used to. I'd feel almost drunk as I chipmunk-cheeked entire packages of the things. Between Fun Fruits and Fruit Wrinkles, I ultimately told Maw to stop packing salami sandwiches and just double-up on the fruit snacks. She went for it, because it was easier to concede that fruit snacks must be good for you than argue a person's need for processed salami.
Both Fun Fruits and Fruit Wrinkles would later take on new shapes. The Wrinkles simply transformed into genuine fruit-shaped snacks, while Fun Fruits evolved into everything from dinosaurs to football equipment. I much prefer the original, raisin-shaped bits. Sometimes I'd swallow them without chewing, like pills. I don't know why I feel have to mention this. I just do.
Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie: I've reviewed the film before, and the longtime curious should be happy to learn that it's finally come to DVD. And not one of those bootlegs that've been circulating forever -- an officially licensed DVD. Never mind that it still looks like a bootleg...it's the real deal. There's no audio commentary with Mackenzie Astin, but what could he have really said, anyway?
"Yeah, yeah here's the part where I meet 'em. Yeah, one of the stagehands came up with this squirt bulb that let that pimply puppet over there piss on-camera. Yeah, yeah I'm pretty proud of this scene -- notice how we went a full sixteen seconds without a cut? I think we inspired that Mad About You episode there. And not to muse out of context, but back when I was on The Facts of Life, Kim would always tell me..."Mack Daddy, you know you got summadat serious talent, you know you're going Hollywood." I really should give her a call soon. Okay I'll shut up now -- this is the part where Valerie Vomit throws up on my face."
As an adult, I appreciate Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie for being a bad film almost without parallel. There is a difference between a bad movie and a boring movie, and if it's just the former, you can still skim some enjoyment out of a viewing. As a child, though, I absolutely hated it. One look at the finger-eating gator, and I was out of that theater. The movie's design and themes indicated that the people who made it only had a fundamental understanding of why we collected Garbage Pail Kids cards to begin with. I'm not sure what we would've wanted out of a GPK movie as kids -- it sounds like an impossible mission -- but it certainly wasn't this. I'd describe it as an almost faith-losing film, the kind that stuck on you like a horrible image of a car-mangled cat, or that episode of M*A*S*H* where Colonel Blake's plane went down.
Striped Chips Ahoy!: I was a Chips Ahoy! kid, no doubt about it. I could eat three of the things in a gulp. Confessing one of my most disgusting habits, I used to chew up one Chips Ahoy! cookie into a fine paste, slather it on top of another with my tongue, and top that with a final cookie, thus creating the holiest of all snacks: The Chips Ahoy! Sandwich.
At least, that was the holiest snack until Striped Chips Ahoy! came along. In my heart of hearts, I knew the truth: I liked the originals better. These new, chocolate covered beasts robbed me of much of the crunch I so desired. I would never admit this outwardly, and in retrospect, I even lived in self-denial. This isn't to say the cookies were bad -- they were great! The back of each was drenched in chocolate, while the chip-encrusted tops were striped with, you guessed it, more chocolate. Heart-clogging as they may have been, Striped Chips Ahoy! were targeted more directly at kids than the originals, with weird ads like the one above, letting us cut up a magazine page and take home our very own Striped Chips Ahoy! flip book. This ad appeared in a lot of comics and magazines back then, so when it came time for Show 'n Tell at school, the stakes were raised. Eight people were guaranteed to bring in their stupid cookie flip books, and unless someone got a new hamster or a bruise shaped like an ex-president, there were gonna be eight students tied for first. You cannot split a Dum Dum lollipop eight ways, folks.
Chester Cheetah Poster: Face it, Chester was effective. Wise's Cheez Doodles were the superior product, but nobody would dare betray a cat this cool. While it's true that a lot of what we ate stemmed from which foods were considered "in" at the time, starchy stuff like chips usually didn't fall into the same trap. We ate what we liked. There weren't many cartoon mascots, and in a market so devoid of the extracurricular, Chester Cheetah cleaned up, took control and never even had to take off his sunglasses.
What began only as a way to better differentiate Cheetos from the competition ultimately evolved into an all-out pop culture icon. Chester wasn't the Noid, or the Energizer Bunny, or even the dude from Little Caesar's. But he was something, dammit, and kids liked him. Eventually, Chester was immortalized not only in the advertising and packaging, but in the snacks themselves, with his own paw-shaped line of Cheetos. And you know what? He's still rockin' the house. Check out Cheetos' website. If you sent someone from planet Jupiter there, they'd gather within two seconds that Cheetos had something to do with a cheetah. It'd take 'em about another minute to realize what Cheetos actually were.
This ad is special -- it's more than an ad. Found in the premiere issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Magazine, Chester pawed his way into our arteries with a special, limited edition fold-out poster that made our bedrooms look oh so gloriously lame...
Yo, you. Keep your cheesy snout OUT of my totally rad private pad.
Or I'll fucking kill you.
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