5 Famed Retired Corporate Mascots

Consumer product companies love finding a memorable corporate mascot who can get the buying public to open their wallets. A great mascot builds brand equity for decades, while a bad one can be an embarrassing smear on a company's history. Both types often meet the same fate, though, when it comes time for forced retirement. Here are a few of our favorites, some still mourned, some still mocked.

The Frito Bandito
As a general rule, if your product is delicious enough to inspire men to commit larceny, it's probably worth buying. This logic pervades ad character lore from the bumbling Trix Rabbit to McDonald's beloved Grimace, who was originally a shake-stealing kleptomaniac before becoming an inarticulate gumdrop. The Frito Bandito fit into this mold, but he one-upped the others by having a serious pedigree. Introduced in 1967, the Frito Bandito sprang from the pen of Tex Avery and received his voice from Mel Blanc; this team is much more famous for teaming up to create such characters as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

Unfortunately, the Bandito was a bit more offensive than anything from those beloved cartoons. The character pretty much embodied every negative stereotype he could find. The Bandito was heavily armed. He wore a garishly oversized sombrero. He spoke in an accent that made Speedy Gonzales' sound reasonable. He stole and conned his way into delectable corn chips. He led around a burro. Early versions of the character even had a gold front tooth and unkempt hair. The National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee was not amused by this astoundingly racist creation and convinced the chipmaker to clean up the character's image, including whiting over the gold tooth. According to a piece in Slate, the Bandito permanently holstered his guns after the RFK assassination, but even that couldn't save him. The Bandito eventually found himself in retirement following a 1971 House subcommittee hearing on ethnic defamation in broadcast media.

Golly
The Golliwogg or Golliwog is a fictional children's book character created by Florence Kate Upton in the late 19th century; she described the character as a "horrid sight, the blackest gnome." The character was an obvious offshoot of blackface minstrel iconography, which made sense since it was supposedly inspired by a minstrel doll Upton owned as a child. To the modern viewer, such a character looks like the product of the worst sort of racist tradition. When British jam manufacturer John Robertson saw Golly in 1910, though, he had a rather different reaction, which probably sounded like, "That obvious racial caricature would make a fine mascot for a line of jams!" Golly started appearing on Robertson's marmalade and jam jars in that year, and the company later distributed buttons with the character's likeness on it.

The promotion was wildly successful, and collecting Golly buttons became a popular hobby. Eventually, though, Golly eased into retirement in 2001. Was this finally a victory for sensitivity? Hardly. Robertson's spokespeople told the BBC that the discontinuation had nothing to do with Golly being offensive; he simply was no longer popular. Characters from Roald Dahl's books took his place on the company's jars.

The Noid
Calling the Noid a corporate mascot is something of a misnomer. He was really more of a spokesvillain who appeared in Domino's Pizza ads throughout the 1980s. While other mascots have at least relatively well-defined motives (generally theft and/or protection of their Lucky Charms), the Noid was a pizza-smashing kindred spirit (and possibly inspiration for) Cormac McCarthy's Anton Chigurh. Viewers and victims couldn't deconstruct or analyze the Noid's motivations; he was little more than a vacant and implacable destructive force who only lived to ruin pizzas. That was the bit in its entirety: a guy in a red suit with floppy rabbit ears who wanted to damage your pizza, possibly by throwing a cartoon bomb into the box. Only Domino's could "avoid the Noid" and deliver a suitable pie to your house.

The Noid was so wildly popular that he inspired two video games: a PC adventure called "Avoid the Noid" in 1989 and 1990's NES romp "Yo! Noid." CBS told the New York Times it was developing a Noid cartoon series for its 1988 Saturday-morning schedule. Others weren't quite as keen on the little red guy. In 1989, Kenneth Noid walked into a Domino's in Chamblee, Georgia, and used a .357 magnum to take two employees hostage. He demanded $10,000, a getaway car, and a copy of the 1985 novel The Widow's Son; he ended up getting little more than a Noid-avoiding Domino's pie and a ride in a squad car.

Speedy Alka-Seltzer
Throughout its history, Alka-Seltzer has marketed itself as a cure for all sorts of ailments, from heartburn to aches and pains to headaches. It has always maintained a strong marketing presence, and the brand's most iconic character sprang into existence in 1951 when Speedy Alka-Seltzer was born. Speedy was a a small, mischievous-looking scamp who had an Alka-Seltzer tablet for a body, a magic "effervescent" wand, and another Alka-Seltzer for a hat. (For those of you paying attention, yes, within the internal logic of Speedy's world, he was basically wearing a torso for a hat.) According to Alka-Seltzer's website, the character reflected Bayer's promotional theme of "Speedy Relief," and by 1953 Speedy was appearing in television commercials. Speedy retired in 1964 after singing and shilling in over 200 TV spots. While many viewers undoubtedly wished that the boy with an Alka-Seltzer tablet chest had simply effervesced into nothingness during an ill-fated attempt at taking a bath, the character resurfaced from time to time in the following decades.

The Smash Martians
If Martian robots visited Earth, what do you think they'd be interested in? Our ecology? Our technology? According to a 1974 ad for Cadbury's Smash brand of instant mashed potatoes, the aliens are really only interested in using their soulless robotic voices to mock our methods of potato consumption. Here we are, a race full of foolish earthlings who primitively peel our potatoes with knives before mashing them ourselves. These Martians know that only school cafeterias have it right: instant mashed potatoes are the way of the truly enlightened. If they had thumbs instead of metallic robo-pinchers, these aliens would be thumbing them at our entire planet. Viewers loved the spots, though, and the Martians made several more appearances.

Although the Martians aren't still around, this ad was spectacularly popular in the U.K. It won a 1999 poll conducted by the British advertising magazine Campaign to pick the top ad of the century and topped a similar BBC poll in 2006. They've also enjoyed several revivals since their first retirement, including ones in 1992 and 1999. For all their popularity, though, the joke's on the Martians; everyone knows instant mashed potatoes taste like powdered drywall.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.