The most prominent cases of established cartoon characters who broke the fourth wall to sell you everything from cereal to insulation…
NOTE: This was the topic of a recent episode of Laser Time. Read on or feel free to LISTEN for an extended take on the subject and even more bizarre instances of Celebrity Cartoon Mascots!
Yes, Yes; Everything’s “a product.” But our favorite fictional characters rarely act as a mascot to a product for longer than six months, nor do cartoon characters typically have their own line of popular kinky-knacks indefinitely. FOR INSTANCE! You probably once owned a cereal with Spider-Man on the box, but no one can tell you definitively what it tasted like.
Somewhere, lost in the Spider-verse
These deals generally involve monolithic, flash-in-the-pan contracts, and characters of ephemeral popularity, creating partnerships as temporary as changes in the weather. That is, except for these oddball “spokestoons” we’re about to regale you with. These characters represented already existing products for years, even decades. Some still bafflingly exist, others are long gone, and one… well, one just came back.
7. ECTO COOLER
In case you lack the internet or a general sense of wonder, Ecto Cooler was brought back after almost 20 years to promote the 2016 Ghostbusters film. Despite many of us not having seen the Hi-C logo in years, the tart green confection emerged in a can and dorks like me went apeshit. For good reason! How many beverages can you think of that had their own teaser trailer?
With a single stroke of marketing brilliance in the year 1989, sugary drink seller Hi-C took a mild-mannered preexisting orange and tangerine drink and reskinned it in honor of the Ghostbusters 4th most famous character (sorry, Winston). That alone isn’t special. We hear you screaming “Cartoon characters appear on juice boxes all the time!” And you’d be right.
First of all, yes, this is Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters animated series. However, the drink came out in 1989, mostly to coincide with the release of Ghostbusters II. What’s truly remarkable about Ecto Cooler is that it continued to exist for almost a decade after the Ghostbusters franchise was, at best, completely unrecognizable to the children Hi-C wanted to appeal to, and at worst, completely dead.
If it doesn’t come in 1 quart cans, the drink isn’t canon!
To put that in perspective to you younglings under 25, that’s sorta like if you walked into a grocery store right now and could buy popsicles in the shape of Johnny Bravo or juice featuring Rocket Power. Furthermore, even when Slimer left the cover of the drink box, the Ecto Cooler name persisted until around 2001.
And the flavor lasted even longer! If I may speak personally, I’m not only nostalgic for Ecto Cooler as a drink, I’m so old I’m nostalgic for the internet sleuthing that continued to seek out the flavor well into the 2000s. In those fledgling days of the web that predates Facebook and Twitter, Ecto Cooler fans managed to track down the flavor, (then in disguise under names like Shoutin’ Orange Tangerine and Crazy Citrus Cooler) until the line was discontinued in 2007. Whatever the case, Ecto Cooler is back, and even though Slimer’s not on the cover, it certainly could’ve been worse…
Bill Cosby and a drink promising magic inside…write your own jokes, people!
6. BUTTERFINGER AND THE SIMPSONS
If you listened to our “Surprising Origins” Laser Time episode from a while back, the statement “Millhouse premiered in a Butterfinger commercial” is a trivia tidbit that’s every bit as confusing as it is fascinating for even the most cromulent Simpsons nerd. “But wait, wasn’t Milhouse in the Christmas special?” Yes, Milhouse absolutely appears in that 1989 debut episode, but any Simpsons fan undoubtedly also knows that The Simpsons debuted as animated interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show further back in 1987.
Again, I know you know this, but it’s just so unfathomably hard to reconcile that the chocolate-coated petrified peanut butter candy bar recognized the potential in The Simpsons possibly before Fox did, because the first Butterfinger commercials starring Bart aired over a year before The Simpsons’ inaugural episode.
There is no other character as synonymous with Butterfinger, and they seem to be more than happy to bring Bart back whenever there’s a new Butterfingery variant on the market, such as ice cream or Butterfinger BBs. And even though Bart hasn’t repped the candy uninterrupted over the show’s three-decade run, TV spots pop up every few years and the Simpsons/Butterfinger partnership was reportedly renewed as recently as 2013. Have I plugged our Simpsons podcast yet?
5. PINK PANTHER INSULATION
The only thing more insane than this product ever existing is that IT STILL EXISTS. Why in the holy hell would you put a cartoon character on a product kids shouldn’t even touch?! Professional construction workers wear masks just to breath around housing insulation, but sure, go ahead and toss a Saturday morning idol on a highly dangerous product that already bears way too close a resemblance to cotton candy. Seriously, that’s like putting Spongebob on jugs of bleach that look like fruit punch or having the Minions rep steak knives.
Admittedly, this is a lot less problematic nowadays since I kinda doubt children know who Pink Panther even is, but folks certainly did back in 1979 when the United Artists theatrical cartoon character became the poster boy for Owens-Corning insulation. Kids DEFINITELY knew him well into the 80s, when Pink Panther cartoons ran every day on television while the insulation company was then a defendant in over EIGHTY THOUSAND asbestos-related lawsuits. And even with all that said, not only do I still want to touch Pink Panther insulation, I kinda NEED to know what it tastes like.
All the cool kids are becoming home owners!
4. ANDY CAPP HOT FRIES
Although I’ve never met a person who liked Andy Capp, the funny pages’ favorite drunken spousal abuser has allegedly been a three-panel staple since 1957. I say “allegedly” since I don’t think I’ve seen an actual newspaper since my phone became capable of reporting my heart rate to the government so I can’t personally verify that, but on an internet otherwise devoid of Andy Capp fandom, it’s reportedly still being published. Prove me wrong, no one!
What I have bore witness to is the bizarre longevity of Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, which have been manufactured and distributed globally since 1971 in numerous flavors and varieties, and miraculously have an official web page. It’s nothing short of mindblowing for me each and every time I see it still being sold at dumpy convenience stores to this day, since I remember it as the absolute last resort in 1980s skating rink vending machines sold out of Doritos and Sour Cream and Onion Lays. Who knew combining a food I hate with a cartoon character I like even less was such a winning recipe for longevity?!
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen
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