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.

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

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