Tag Archives: Branding

Lost in the wonderful world of Mr. Product

4461391534_02cce86892_oAs a kid I spent a disproportionate amount of time wandering around supermarkets and discount outlets every weekend with my mother.  Like most kids my mom would drag me out to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping, but unlike most (I think) my mother usually went out close to midnight and would spent hours picking through the aisles looking for new products and browsing endlessly for stuff.  Since I knew she was going to be awhile, it was pretty common for me to wander off, lost in my own head and making up stories as I let my eyes scan across the thousands of boxes, cans, jars, bottles and packaging. Much later I’d come to the realization that this time was her precious escape from the isolation of being a homemaker, her chance to get out and just not be cooped up in the house and the routine.

For me, it was the beginning of what would become a life-long obsession with branding, packaging, and art.  Every product on those shelves had a story, many of which even had convenient main stars right there on the box.  Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Kool-Aid Man, Big John (he of the beans & fixin’s fame), Mr, Clean, Chef Boyardee,Mr. Bubble, the old timey lady on the raisins box, all of these characters, all of this art and branding was swimming around my head as I tried to keep myself entertained and sane while wandering the aisles, lost in the supermarket.

From the collection of Jason Liebig, CollectingCandy.com

This love of branding, product mascots and art was reinforced in my teens and early 20s after I got a job stocking grocery store shelves on the night crew of my local Kroger.  Again, to keep myself sane I’d lose myself in the various labels and boxes, making sure all the packaging was upright and facing front at the end of the night.  It was very centering in a weirdly zen way, being a sort of shepherd for products, making sure they were presented as they were designed.  Again, this just reinforced my love of branding, and has informed my taste when it came to doing my own freelance design and artwork.

Recently my friend Belle Dee had shared a picture of some books she’d just bought, a couple volumes called Meet Mr. Product and simply Mr. Product, Vol.2, and they really caught my eye.  Written and compiled by Warren Dotz and designed by Masud Husain, this two volume set features the graphic art of advertising characters and mascots covering a plethora of brands over the majority of the 20th century.  Well, I got my hands on a copy of the second volume and I am in love…

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This volume’s 272 pages are crammed full of hundreds of mascot illustrations and paintings mainly covering the years 1960-1985.  The book is broken into two halves, the first deals with short essays and examinations centering on the design trends of those two and a half decades.  Transitioning away from the Googie futurism of the late forties and fifties, the book chronicles the tumultuous era of design that saw America through the ultra-hip beatniks, flower-power psychedelia, anthropomorphic machines and electronics, the surf, mod, and monster cultures and on to the ultra-weird Sid & Marty Kroft-inspired McDonalndland gang, the salacious playboy and disco era, and eventually to the height of product merchandising in the Regan era. I really enjoyed reading through these micro-chapters.  They’re not only fun and conversational, making connections between mascots and trends, but they lay the groundwork for really appreciating the second, larger half of the book which focuses solely on on the advertising mascot artwork.

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As much as I enjoyed the first 80 or so pages of examinations, it’s in the last couple hundred pages where I fell in love with this volume.  The artwork is broken down into 7 sections, Food & Drinks, Kids are King, Fast Food Franchises, Car Culture, Modern Life, Travel and Amusement, and Public Services and Safety.  Inside these chapters each two page spread is a curated collection of similar mascots, be it because of design or sub category.  For example, in the Fast Food section there’s the wonderful couple of pages that feature early illustrations of the Chuck E. Cheese and Showbiz characters (in this case using imagery from various promo buttons as seen above.)

The pages above also underline another aspect that I really love about his book which is that there was a lot of time and care taken with the artwork to showcase the actual illustrations as they were originally designed.  At first this might seem like a pretty simple thing, but I know from 10 years of sharing ephemera on this site that it requires a lot more than just snapping pictures or scanning old packaging or items.  There was a tremendous amount of care taken with cleaning up the artwork so that it could be presented in a very crisp and clean fashion enabling the reader to fully appreciated the design which I love.  It’s this attention to detail in the presentation that makes this book an indispensable resource for graphic designers, both for inspiration and research.

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Another aspect that I was very pleasantly surprised by was the sheer volume of mascots and characters presented.  Being a collector myself and having been steeping in this world for over 30 years you get to a point where it feels like you’ve seen it all.  Even though I was born around the middle of the period this book covers, I’ve spent years thumbing through old magazines, deconstructing the products found in the backgrounds of old movies and television shows, and scouring the internet for examples of product packaging and I still was only familiar with about half of what’s presented in Mr. Product.  Flipping through the book I noticed a mascot I that looked sort of like the Fruit Stripes Gum Zebra, Yipes, but was instead the Beech-Nut Gum-Fetti Giraffe.  Turns out the two were both offshoots of the same company and might be representing the same gum, but this is something I never stumbled across in 30 years of paying attention to this kind of stuff.

In the photo above you can also see a really cool piece of artwork for Count Cola.  Again, longtime readers of this site know that I adore Halloween and monster branding, and I hard never stumbled across that particular brand of cola or its awesome cartoon vampire mascot.  I even Googled it, looking for pictures or info about Count Cola and was only able to find one tiny pixelated illustration, so this book has some really great obscure artwork from Dotz’s collection.

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If you’re a fan of design, product branding or artwork, the Mr. Product books should be mandatory purchases.  Not only will they provide a wealth of inspiration, but for those that think they’ve seen it all, I’m pretty sure this book will prove otherwise and be a very welcome addition to your collection.  Dotz and Husain have really outdone themselves with this volume and as soon as I started flipping through the book I immediately logged into Amazon and ordered the first one as well.  My hope is that sometime soon the duo will reconvene and put together a third volume that covers the latter half of the 80s and the 90s to finish off the archive of a century of advertising mascots.

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Wax Paper Pop Art #34, A Very Special Episode in which Klinger Doesn’t Cross-dress…

I had a fun conversation with a fellow on twitter this week about the line of M*A*S*H action figures that was released back I the early 80s.  I find it fascinating that series like M*A*S*H and Dallas were merchandised as much as they were considering they’re more or less aimed at an adult audience.  In particular, the idea of dedicating a line of trading cards to a dramedy like M*A*S*H just seems insane.  “Got it, got it, got it, ooohh, a Hot Lips Houlihan!  I’ll trade you two Klinger’s for your Father Francis…”

1982 Donruss M*A*S*H trading cards

I guess when Doc and Lifeline weren’t enough medics to collectively care for your battle-damaged G.I. Joes, you could always call in the M*A*S*H unit.  And it lightens my heart to know that kids had a Father Francis figure to see those poor souls, the ones with the broken O-rings, got the last rites they deserved…

Wax Paper Pop Art #33, The Arcade and Video Game edition…

It’s been a long time since I was super excited to catch an upcoming Disney animated film that wasn’t a Pixar creation.  That’s why I was so happy after catching the Wreck-It Ralph trailer that was released this week.  Though I’m not usually all that happy with non-voice actor casting, John C. Riley sounds great as the titular character, and the film has the potential to do for video game characters what Roger Rabbit and Toy Story did for cartoons and toys respectively.  In honor of the trailer, here’s my collection of arcade-centric Wax Wrappers from the 80s…

1st up is the 1980 Fleer Pac-Man wrapper…

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Next, from1982, the Topps Donkey Kong stickers

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Moving right along, we find ourselves in 1983 with the Topps Video City set

Finally, here are four wrappers from the 1989 Topps Nintendo Game Packs featuring Mario, Link, The Princess, and the spin-off set of Temporary Tattoos released later that year.  By the by, I talked about these Nintendo stickers in the Peel Here column before

 

 

Wax Paper Pop Art #32, Drawn to women who are drawn bad…

It seems odd that in just over six years of running Branded in the 80s I haven’t really talked about a film like Roger Rabbit.  Hmm, I’ll have to remedy that in the future.  In the meantime, here’s the wax wrapper for the 1987 Topps card and sticker set…

Wax Paper Pop Art #31:Duh Da Duh Duuunnnn, Dun Dun Dun!

Since I’ve been starring at my tiny Hot Wheels A-Team van all week, and since I have a contest going where you can win one of these toys, I decided that this would be a good time to share my 1983 Topps A-Team wax wrappers…

I talked about the stickers from this card set a while back too.

Wax Paper Pop Art #30, the Big Hairy Ape edition…

This week’s Wax Paper Pop Art is all about big hairy apemen.  Whether it’s the hilarious misadventures of an unruly adopted sasquatch with the 1987 Topps Harry and the Henderson’s card and sticker set (which I talked about here)…

…the weird romance and ennui of the master of the apes, from the 1976 Topps King Kong card and sticker set…

…or these next two wrappers from 1967 and 1969 (respectively) featuring the Topps Planet of the Apes card sets.

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Which reminds me, I need to break out my Planet of the Apes cartoon DVD and watch it again…

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Wax Paper Pop Art #29, Assembling some of the Avengers…

Well, it’s Friday and I’m really looking forward to the weekend and catching the Avengers sometime tomorrow morning.  Seems like a good opportunity to share my two main Marvel comics wax wrappers.  First up is the wrapper for the Topps Marvel Comic Book Heroes Stickers from 1974

I didn’t have any wrappers that were more in line with the Avengers, so I figured it’d be fun to pair the above with my favorite wax wrapper of all time from the 1979 Topps Incredible Hulk card set!

Here’s to hoping the Hulk gets to smash a bunch of stuff tomorrow…

Wax Paper Pop Art #28, The Ewoks Join the Fight!

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I slapped together a Wax Paper Pop Art post.  I’ve got to get on the ball and finish scanning my collection so I can start these up again.  In the meantime, and in honor of my BFF Wicket W. Warrick stuffed toy, here are a couple of wrappers from Topps Return of the Jedi card series circa 1983…

I find it fascinating that the designers decided that out of all the Ewoks they could have featured on one of these wax packs they decided to include a baby.  Granted, they were cute as hell, but aesthetically speaking wouldn’t Logray or Chief Chirpa have been a better choice?

Branding and nostalgia, what keeps me buying…

Since I’m so enthralled with the pop culture of my youth, it can get kind of dicey when navigating today’s modern boom of 80s and 90s nostalgia with any sort of cost-conscious mindset.  10 years ago, when I first started reaching back into my childhood, there weren’t many options as far satiating my need for 80s stuff.  Either I hit up eBay and tried to buy back some of my memories, or I could scour the internet looking for tiny image files of cartoon screen captures or poorly recorded mp3s of sitcom theme songs.  It’s partly because of this that I started Branded in the 80s.  If I was going to drop 15 bucks on a sticker-themed magazine from 1985, I wanted to make sure it was readily available for others as well.

Over the past decade the options for nostalgia addicts has exploded like an atom bomb.  Actually, more like an Adam Bomb.  Released by Topps back in 2003, The All New Garbage Pail Kids sticker cards were one of the first big product lines cashing in on the fondness for the 80s.  Like the re-launch of the Masters of the Universe line the previous year, these GPKs featured new artwork and concepts (though yes, some were taken from the original 16th series that never saw print back in the day) and provided more than just fresh stickers to procure, it provided fans a second chance to experience the heady feeling of procuring this stuff.  I’ve written about this before, but half of the fondness we have for this pop culture stuff was in the experience of discovering it.  Finding it, buying it, and collecting it.  It’s not just the artwork on the stickers, it’s the wax wrappers and gum they were packaged in.  The shared cultural experience of chewing hard stale sticks of gum, of walking into a gas station or pharmacy and finding your first packs by the register; it’s the memories of begging your parents for money to buy them and then the idle time spent day-dreaming about the future where you’d spend all your money as an adult on Garbage Pail Kids and junk like it.

When I first walked into my local gas station back in 2003 and I saw a full, fresh box of the new GPK stickers I had to do a double take.  I had no idea these were coming out, and I couldn’t believe they were sitting there on the counter.  I actually got giddy as I scooped up the entire box and had to sit and wait while the cashier scanned each individual pack.  I was finally getting a chance to be that “adult” that I day-dreamed about becoming as a kid.  In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t all that important, but at the same time, these experiences don’t come all that often so it’s best to relish them when given the opportunity.

Again, fast forward a few years and the opportunity to buy 80s era nostalgic pop culture junk has exploded, and these days you really have to be picky where you plop down your 30 bucks to try and relive your childhood.  I’m definitely not complaining about the glut of stuff that seems marketed directly to me, but I’ve also kind of become numb to the new breed of 80s branded incarnations that surround us on a daily basis.  Do I really need that box of Smurf Cereal just because one side of the box has a passing resemblance to the Smurfberry cereal of my youth?  Do I really need that snap-back billed ball cap that looks like an extreme close-up of Kermit the Frog’s face?  How about that ironic T-shirt with the cast of Sesame Street that says “Raised on the Street”?  Monster Cereal or He-Man branded Hot Wheels?  Back to the Future Mini Mates?  Hyper-realistic Beetlejuice action figures?  G.I. Joe Resolute DVDs?  Probably not.  But there are some things that catch my eye that I can’t pass up, and 9 times out of 10 it has to do with the packaging and presentation of the product.  Case in point, and going back to Topps and the Garbage Pail Kids, there’s these new GPK magnet and candy sets…

While out at my local Toys ‘R Us the other day I spotted these on a kiosk at the front of the store.  John Pound’s Acne Amy artwork is super iconic to me because it was a card that I saw a lot when I first got into GPKs back in the 80s.  Though I entered around the time the 3rd series was on store shelves, there were rack packs (holding the equivalent of three packs of cards, two 3rd series and one 2nd series) on the shelves that seemed to always have an Acne Amy (or Ghastly Ashley) on top viewable through the clear cellophane.  This new set of magnet cards is available in 4 different packages ($4 each), with either Ghastly Ashley, Potty Scotty, Beastly Boyd, or Adam Bomb on the front.  I’m kind of surprised the designers didn’t go with Dead Ted or Evil Eddie, but they’re all still iconic images that immediately evoke the GPK branding, specifically images that would relate to the adult collector.  The packaging is even cut I such a way that it resembles one of the original die-cut stickers peeled off of the backing.  As soon as I saw them I knew I wasn’t leaving the store without one of each package.

I thought it was interesting that I recently read that Michael Eisner had procured Topps, and looking at projects like these magnet cards, I can kind of see the sort of thing he was doing with Disney back in the 90s.  Can’t say for sure he was involved obviously, but love him or hate him, he did revitalize Disney’s branding.  Back to these magnet cards, I thought it was interesting that nostalgia was the ploy used to get the prospective buyer to snag a bag of these.  Of the 16 cards in the set, only four are from the original vintage sets, the same four that are on the packages.  In a smart sorting decision, each pack comes with one of these vintage magnets (matching the packaging.)  So this was a nice way of satiating the nostalgia bug with keeping up the collectability of the set to keep you buying more.  Out of four packages I am still missing three of the new designs for instance.

On a final note, if you pick any of these up, don’t bother unwrapping and eating the included gummy candy.  Much like the hard sticks of dried out gum that came with the original sticker cards, these body part-shaped gummies are just about inedible.  I guess it’s almost better that way.

Wax Paper Pop Art #27, The most powerful wrappers in the universe!

Today is Friday the 13th which seems like the perfect opportunity to share some cool Jason Vorhees themed bits of Wax Paper Pop Art, but alas none exist.  This reminds me of one of my favorite blogs that is sadly defunct, the Bubblegum Fink.  BF was a huge influence on Branded, and one of the really cool things he did was to create sets of digital trading cards that aped the style of Topps sets back in the 70s and 80s.  One of my favorite would-be sets was for Friday the 13th, and it would have been awesome had it actually existed.  I never saved any of the images sadly, but here’s a post of someone else who took notice of these awesome pieces of should-be-nostalgia

Anyway, in lieu of simplistic Hockey Mask art I thought I’d share a set of some of my favorite Topps card wrappers from the Masters of the Universe series circa 1984…

These images, in particular of He-Man and Skeletor were very prevalent on MOTU merchandising back in the day.  Actually both of them also grace the two Lazer Blazer sticker sets as well.  It’s kind of cool to get a chance to see the same image in so many iterations over the years…

   

I talked about the sticker cards from this set, as well as a bunch of other MOTU stickers in an older Peel Here column.