When I was a kid I had some really weird interests. For instance, whenever my mother would get a survey to fill out, I was always right there tugging on her arm with a pencil in hand, begging her to let me fill it out. I’m not sure what it was about them, the super orderly format, the multiple choice questions where I could check off boxes, or the feeling of being productive in a very specific activity, but I loved it. This proclivity for ordered objects, lists, and browsing flowed into many other similar activities like browsing through the Sears Wishbook and notating all of the junk I wanted around Christmas-time or scanning through the huge fold out page of magazine cover stamps that was packed into the semi-annual Publisher’s Clearing House mailer, picking out all of the subscriptions I would get if I were allowed. I’m pretty sure a bunch of these stamps (which you would tear out and attached to the return mailer to both subscribe and enter the PCH sweepstakes), made their way into my childhood sticker album as well.
When I started collecting comic books, this weird, niche, OCD hobby transitioned into pouring over the the Olympic Prizes or Cash ads that were all over comics in the mid to late 80s. These were like going on a virtual Toys R Us toy run with all of the little illustrations of the rad toys you could get in exchange for selling Olympic brand stationary and greeting cards door to door. Just look at these ads from 1985 and 1988 respectively. Robotech Cyclones, Blackstone Magic sets, RC cars, BMX bikes and Veriflex brand skateboards?! Oh yeah, these were great.
These catalog obsessions became ingrained in who I am as an adult, and the focus I’ve had as of late is scanning through backissues of old comics and magazines looking for “Super Fan” advertisements. These ads, are the kind that get really specific and niche on a singular brand offering all sorts of merchandise to fulfill your fanatic desires. Sometimes these took the form of actual catalogs, but a lot of the time they were single page ads that were jam-packed will all kinds of weird and wonderful products. I shared one of these in a recent piece I wrote about the Care Bears/Madballs crossover comic book, so that seems like a good place to start with these Super Fan ads.
In 1987 General Mills and the Tang powdered drink brand was so blind to their own suspected popularity that they launched an entire line of Tang-branded products in a series of magazine and comic book ads that are pretty amazing.
So, for the six kids across America that were so passionate about their Tang fandom that they needed to deck out from head to toe in Wham-style t-shirts, wrist and headbands, suspenders, and sunglasses, these ads were like finding a goldmine of amazingness. But it didn’t stop there, you could also but Tang branded phones, Walkmans, flashlights, giant digital pocket-watches, foam basketball hoops sets, and the ultimate Tang product ever conceived by science, the Tang Laser Challenge set! So you could play Laser Ta-n-g with all of your friends! Well, you could get one laser gun and vest sensor set, so you had to hope that you met another kid just as passionate about Tang that they also had a set. I imagine that there is one Tang-loving couple out there that met on accident while playing in their neighborhood with a set alone and then realized another player entered the grid, and a life-long love affair began.
For a long time I thought there was only the one comic book ad for this promotion, but I recently stumbled on this live-action photo-shoot ad from a 1987 issue of Boy’s Life magazine (the official magazine of the Boy Scouts.) I’m speechless.
These kind of “Super Fan” ads definitely started in the late 70s with the birth of blockbuster summer films like Jaws, Alien, Superman and in particular Star Wars. There are some great Star Wars ads in this vein, and even though these examples are from 1978 and 1979, they totally deserve to be included in this piece if only because one of them features the cast of the movie wearing their own merchandise! If you ever wanted to see Luke Skywalker in a Han Solo ringer tee, Princess Leia with a Star Wars purse, or Han Solo in a Star Wars trucker cap, you are in luck my friend!
This advertisement is so amazing. From the Stormtrooper checking out that rad poster about to be murdered by Obi-Wan Kenobi, to C3-P0 and R2-D2 sporting matching book bags, it’s everything you want from a cheesy Star Wars Super Fan ad. This is the kind of thing that makes for an epic full-back tattoo. Just saying.
This next example is not nearly as much fun visually, but some of the products you could snag from Heroes World were pretty damn amazing. What lucky kid had life-sized standees of the Star Wars characters for only $8 in 1978?!? And what swank dude or hot geek chick was strutting around wearing those rad X-Wing necklace pendants or Darth Vader rings?! I also love that the ad very specifically states that it was laid out and illustrated by students of the Joe Kubert Cartooning Art School. Hell, maybe it was drawn by Andy or Adam Kubert!
Since I opened the door to the late 70s, I might as well also share some scans of the Marvel comics super fan advertisements as well. Need some Hercules pajamas? What about Spider-Man, Hulk and Thor bath towels and washcloths? What about a badass Captain America metal belt buckle? Then this ad has literally got you covered…
There were a whole series of these Marvel ads that offered everything from sweatshirts, Underoos, inflatable Hulk Muscles, utility belts, lunchboxes, thermoses, socks, stationary, wallets, toothbrushes and toys. If you were a kid screaming “Make Mine Marvel” in the late 70s, there were plenty of options for showcasing your love of the comics publisher and characters.
Let’s jump back into the 80s and take a look at this great Nickelodeon ad from 1988. Though the product offerings were a bit slim, with only a couple t-shirts, a backpack, bicycle cap and a yo-yo, this ad is still a lot of fun and it’s completely on-brand. I love the font and slime, and the fact the both sides of the hat brim show the nickelodeon logo, so it didn’t matter if you were wearing it the normal way or the super cool way, you were showing your love of Nickelodeon. Also, I totally need a Double Dare shirt. I’m surprised they didn’t include the Double Dare game or the Slime shampoo in this ad…
The next ad is a very weird one from 1989 featuring the Mr. Bubble brand. This one is complete with a mini comic (I’m guessing the folks who laid out the ad thought it would trick kids into reading it), and features merch you could beg your mom for like sweatshirts, t-shirts and a watch! Who were the kids running around with the Mr. Bubble watch?! I guess they always knew when it was bath-time. I also love that a lot of these ads require that you also turn in UPCs from the brands in order to qualify for purchasing these items. It’s like you had to prove your fandom before you could even get into the club…
Clocking in as one of the most famous merchandise ads of the 80s (and well into the 90s) is the Kool-Aid Wacky Warehouse ads that were all over comics as well as on tear-pads in displays in grocery stores as well. If there was one company that knew how to get kids jazzed about branded merch is was Kraft with their rad Kool-Aid brand, particularly in the 80s when they introduced a whole line of drinks with their own mascots including Rock-A-Dile Red, The Great-Bluedini, Purplesaurus Rex, Sharkleberry Fin, Pink Swimingo, and Incrediberry. By collecting the proofs-of-purchase you could turn them in for all sorts of amazing Kool-Aid merch like Wacky Belt Packs (c’mon Kool-Aid, be brave and leave that fanny in the title), watches, Fun Floaters (um, frisbees), shirts, hats, walkie talkies, wacky canteens, and a million different colors of Kool-Aid Man cups…
I particularly love these three ads because they heavily feature the new flavor mascots, and all three were from 1988.
The not-quite-as-cool cousin of the Kool-Aid Wacky Warehouse was the Nestle Quik Hop Shop. This ad is from 198 and features a bunch of fun products branded with the Quik Bunny, my favorite being the Ice Pop Maker set. This ad is kind of weird because the designers/company thought that it was necessary and important to set aside 1/12th of the full-page ad space for the official Nestle Quik Conversion Chart. Again, the idea here is that in order to qualify for buying all of this Nestle Quik stuff, you had to first buy a crap ton of Quik. To confuse things even more, instead of just sending in points printed on the cans or bottles, you could send in either the actual UPC codes or Bunny Money (the equivalent of points I guess), but it got really complicated because they insisted on having a sliding scale of points per product. This is too much math and I honestly wonder, if you didn’t have enough points or didn’t even send in any UPC, did they actually refund your money or refuse the purchase?
Next up is my favorite oddity in the world of Super Fan catalog advertisements, this 1987 Hellraiser ad that originally ran in Fangoria magazine. Coming from someone who absolutely loves the first two Hellraiser flicks, this ad is BONKERS! I mean, of all the 80s era horror flicks to get this treatment I would have expected films like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th to pop up first. But apparently New World Pictures was pinning all their hopes on Hellraiser (pun fully intended), and they launched the film with a whole slew of products to back up the release. Of course there were t-shirts, posters, hats and jackets, but the items that really kill me are the thermos, sweatpants, and the gym bag. Who the hell was going to the gym in full head to toe Hellraiser gear?!? Now that I think about it, Pinhead would be a pretty great workout trainer. “Give me ten more reps Johnathan, your pain is delicious. I’ll tear your abs…apart!”
Last, but certainly not least is the infamous 1989 Nintendo Gear & Stuff catalog. This thing is 17 full pages of NES insanity. If there was anything you wanted with the Nintendo logo on it, the company was more than happy to oblige. You could deck out your entire body from head to toe, cover every square inch of your bedroom, and ensure than every birthday party and every minute in school reminded you to play with POWER!
Did you have any experiences being a super fan as a kid? Any catalogs or advertisements you obsessed over endlessly? Let me know in the comments…