13 Advertising Spokes Characters Who Aren’t Just for Breakfast

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

We recently looked at collectibles connected to our favorite food mascots (cereal and otherwise), but there are lots of beloved Advertising Spokes Characters for non-edible markets, too.

The granddaddy of all spokes characters has to be Bibendum. You might know him as The Michelin Man (which is actually his official name in the U.S.). Even though he’s French, his name is a Latin approximation of “I drink nails.” Bib has been around since 1894 when tires were white or light gray.

bibendum pep boysAlso from the world of automotive service, Pep Boys decided they needed not one but three spokes brothers. Manny, Moe, and Jack have been around since 1921. They are based on the three company founders, who are not brothers and none of whom are named “Pep.”

A perfect example of target marketing, Bullseye the miniature bull terrier has been the spokes mutt for Target stores since 1999. There have been various stuffies and toys of this mutt, most of them presumably exclusive to those stores. 

bullseye geoffrey snoopyAnother famous store mascot hasn’t fared as well lately. Geoffrey the Giraffe was the spokes mammal for Toys “R” Us stores since their inception and was there til the end when the chain finally went belly up.

Snoopy is really just a cartoon character, but honestly, he’s probably as well known as a spokes pup for, well just about everything, including MetLife Insurance. He isn’t available as a true spokes collectible, but he is represented in countless toys, possibly more than any other comics character in history.

 

reddy kilowatt naugaElectricity shouldn’t be a hard thing to sell. You kind of need it for all sorts of things all day. But in the 1920s, electricity was still not the dominant source of power in U.S. homes, especially in rural areas. In fact, a lot of farmers were downright skeptical of it. Enter Reddy Kilowatt, the “electric utility ambassador.” Fun fact: By the 1970s, Reddy changed his message to one of energy conservation, not consumption. Another fun fact: He was once a member of the Grateful Dead. No, really!

Fake leather shouldn’t be a hard sell, either, but Naugahyde brought out Nauga, a spokes monster made of that very substance. His legacy has endured longer than the material has, and it was pretty indestructible.

alfred e neuman bazooka joeSeveral magazines have had spokes characters from “Cracked” (Sylvester P. Smyth) to “The New Yorker” (Eustace Tilly), but none reigned as supremely stupid as Alfred E. Neuman, spokes idiot for “MAD.” Sadly, “MAD”
is ending its print run soon, perhaps allowing Alfred to really focus on his next bid for the Presidency (one of these years, he has to win, right?)

Gum isn’t food, is it? I mean, you shouldn’t eat it. Did you know that’s how Bazooka Joe ended up losing his eye? Sadly, they never really explain it in the comics printed inside the wrappers. And they don’t ever clarify whether he actually owns a bazooka.

Joe Camel tagamet tommyMedicine isn’t food either, is it? Alka Seltzer is kind of the antidote for food if you think about it. In addition to a memorable jingle and soothing action shots of tablets fizzing, the brand had its own spokes guy, Speedy.

Cigarettes are definitely not food, right? And certainly not for kids. Never mind the Flintstones shilling Winston cigarettes in TV commercials in the early ’60s. Of course, the most egregious spokes dromedary was Joe Camel, who swears he wasn’t trying to lure kids to the cool, rebellious life. The backlash against Joe was so severe that not only were cuddly characters banned for tobacco marketing, pretty much all cigarette advertising and sports sponsorships were forbidden.

The greatest spokes organ of all time has to be the Tagamet Tommy. Yes, he’s an anthropomorphic stomach. Which begs so many questions, like does he have internal organs? We’re going to say “no.” 

Freddy FunkoOf course, a lot of the collectibles seen here are Funko products.  Their company spokes figure Freddy Funko has taken on a life of his own over the last twenty years. He started out as a large scale store display Wobbler, and has since appeared in more costumes than you can keep track of. A character created to sell figures of characters created to sell other things… no wonder King Freddy wears that crown.

What are your favorite non-food spokes characters and mascots? Let us know in the comments!

Be the first to leave a comment!

Tomica Diecast Returns to North America

tomica UOS 2019Tomica packagingAfter a long absence from the U.S. and Canadian market, Japanese diecast giant Tomica is coming back. An initial wave of 6 models recently started showing up at Walmart stores, followed soon by half a dozen more.

Tomica has been in the diecast business since the early 1970s, and are the biggest brand in Japan as well as many other countries. Since the U.S. market was originally a big part of their plans, their offerings have included a lot of American marques and models. The relaunch includes specifically modern Japanese cars and trucks.

tomica opening features

Most Tomica cars feature opening doors, hoods, or hatches.

Tomica is generally known for well-detailed, realistic models of actual cars, as opposed to unlicensed fantasy designs or extreme customs and hot rods. Their cars are around 1/64, but are usually scaled to take advantage of existing wheel sizes. So they might range from 1/50 to almost 1/100 for something like the 1970s Winnebago camper. Tomica cars are marked on the packaging and on the baseplate with the exact scale. Despite the scale differences, Tomica’s well-proportioned, sensible vehicles have been popular as scenery on model railroads.

Tomica gtr

From Wave 1: Nissan GT-R, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift.

The first wave of cars to hit the pegs at Walmart include a Nissan GT-R, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift Sport, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota Prius. The second wave includes a Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota C-HR, Lexus RC-FNissan Note, and Subaru Impreza. These should be familiar to U.S. buyers as they most of them are offered in 1/1 scale.

tomica cx5

Wave 1: Mazda CX-5, Toyota Prius.

The new release also includes a pair of Japanese trucks: in wave one, a Isuzu with a payload of giant french fries, and in wave two, a Hino with a family of pandas sitting on the back. So they do get whimsical sometimes. (Other fun past offerings have also included vehicles similar to the Hot Wheels Character Cars, based on such Nippon legends as Godzilla.)

tomica panda truck

These trucks are part of Tomica’s 2019 return to North America.

Their cars also feature premium features like working suspension and opening doors long after those features have disappeared with other brands. There are usually lots of painted details such as lights, trim, and even elaborate grille badges and nameplates. The packaging has a very international feel with lots of Japanese text, and inside the blister is a box reminiscent of the designs the cars have traditionally come in over the years.

Wave 2: Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyta C-HR, and Lexus RC-F.

The cars are set to retail for around $5 slotting them in between Hot Wheels premium lines and Johnny Lightning’s latest offerings. The initial dozen will be followed by more of their other current castings as Tomica celebrates their 50th anniversary in 2020.

Tomica subaru

Wave 2: Nissan Note, Subaru Impreza.

What’s your favorite Tomica diecast? Let us know in the comments!

Comments (3 Comments)
Bud Kalland

!st 2 waves already listed in my hobbydb store for 2 weeks. They are very detailed. They are well worth the price with the detail level and proper scale. The new packaging is excellent.

Bud

Read all comments

Marx, Sindy & “Greenlighting” Transformers….

Charlie Rosner started an ad agency with Harvey Herman in the early 80s which had a lot of unexpected results and here he is sharing some of interest to the hobbyDB readership.

One of our very first clients was called Dumbee Combex Marx (DCM). It was an offshoot of the old Marx Toys, famous for wonderful tin toys back in the 30 and 40s. It was a publicly traded British company, and they opened a US office, to launch a 12” high fashion doll called Sindy. Harvey got the assignment, and asked me to help, while I was working at Lord Geller Federico. The launch of Sindy was a huge success, which was all down to Harvey positioning Sindy as the wholesome alternative to Mattel’s Barbie. I just helped out a bit with the copy and art directing.

DCM had initially asked Harvey to start an in-house ad agency, but instead he had wanted to start an independent agency, and invited me to become his partner. At that time, toys was one of only a few categories (liquor and “feminine” products being two others) which at the time were highly regulated by the broadcast industry’s self-regulatory body – the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) – Big Brother incarnate! The NAB published an entire book of regulations about what toy commercials were permitted to do, and what they were prohibited from doing. It was over 200 pages long, and so restrictive as to be beyond imagination. When an agency won a toy account they were paid 20% commission, instead of the usual 15%, because they had to hire a law firm to battle with the NAB.

Another genius thing Harvey did was to call up the board of the NAB and tell them we wanted to visit. No one ever wanted to meet with NAB, but we went over and Harvey said “OK, we’re not going to be enemies. Putting aside your insane rules for a moment (like never being able to use the word ”the” in a commercial because an impressionable seven-year-old might misconstrue it for a claim of superiority – which was verboten) just tell us what you care about, and we’ll work just fine together.”

They did, and we did. And we became famous for getting commercials approved by the NAB other agencies never could. I used to get calls from other agencies, asking what our secret was!

DCM, based in Stamford (where 35 years later I still have a business ) had us doing all of their commercials, and with all of the toy ideas they thought they might want to advertise on TV, the last step was to show it to us. If we thought we could make a commercial the NAB would OK, they’d make the toy. Otherwise….

We eventually handled quite a number of toy companies in the US, and one of the overseas companies was the mammoth Bandai, of Japan. They also relied on us to tell them if we thought a toy could be advertised on TV in the US. Bandai had an immensely popular line of toys called Godaiken invented by Nobuyuki Okude. They were robots that ranged from about 5” high to over seven feet tall giants. And each had this very cool thing where they could transform from a robot into a vehicle. We named them Machine Men, did a fun little commercial, and Bandai sold tens of thousands. When they decided to make the first movie, they renamed them “Transformers.”

If Harvey and I hadn’t casually said sure, we can make a commercial the NAB would approve, no Transformers.

Comments (2 Comments)
Robert Raisbeck

These toys eventually became Gobots. Why does the article state at the end that they were renamed Transformers?

Read all comments

Dov Kelemer of DKE Toys Brings His Collective Interests to hobbyDB Advisory Council

Dov Kelemer DKE toysDov Kelemer, founder of DKE Toys, is the latest member of the hobbyDB Advisory Council. He comes from a unique perspective as not only a major action figure dealer, but also as a curator of custom and limited edition mashup figures. His creations include one-off mutations of familiar figures with unusual, often bizarre modifications as well as limited edition resin figures.

dke toys tatooine“DKE Toys started with Star Wars collectibles in the early 90s and still deal in them today,” said Dov. The business evolved into the wholesale distribution of designer vinyl toys by 2005. “We were the exclusive distributor for over 500 artists, brands, and designers. We sold the distribution arm of our business in 2016 to Disburst Ltd (www.disburst.com). Now we set up at 3 or 4 shows a year selling limited edition custom resin action figures.”

DKE toys2004 was when Dov considered a shift in his business model. “Star Wars was getting stale,” he said. “There was a lack of imagination and when I started to see vinyl toys made by artists I admired around 2004 it piqued my interest.”

Dov Kelemer Sarah Jo MarksAs a collector, he was fascinated by the Suckadelic line of custom vinyl art toys and action figures. “The Sucklord started the resin action figure medium in 2005 and I started with his first figure. I continue to this day with not only an archive of all of his work but with scores of other artists influenced by him.”

Like many in this industry, his interest started as a young collector. “I have vintage Star Wars figures from 1977. I have very little before that since that’s the genesis of the Star Wars universe.” There is also a creative energy derived from living near Hollywood with Sarah Jo Marks, originally his business partner, now also his wife. “We met in 2001, so she experienced the transformation with me. By 2005 the distribution company began and we got married that same year.”

dke toys vader projectIn addition to distributing and repping custom artists, Dov has several online presences that occupy his spare time and expand the brand. Spoonful of Star Wars and The Vader Project are two of them. Both are art shows that we curated. The Vader Project, in particular, was a way of introducing Star Wars fans to the artists we were working with in the designer toy business. We sent 100 artists 1/1 scale Darth Vader helmet replicas to paint, modify, and mash-up,” he said. “The show toured the world and ended up at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh before being auctioned off at Freemans.”

dke toys bootleg gpkAnother of his interests gets really specific. The Bootleg Garbage Pail Kids Project occupies additional time and headspace in the Dov universe. As someone who appreciates custom and original work, he curates the inventive and creative efforts in this area. “As with Star Wars before, I grew tired of the newer products Topps was putting out,” he said. “There was always more interesting content when artists and creators were just creating without permission and bypassing the licensing and approval processes. These releases tended to be very handmade or homemade and produced in very small quantities for a very short time”

There is also a tendency for art to imitate life and vice versa. Dov notes, “I also find it fascinating to witness and document how pop culture has influenced the actual culture. I love how GPK themes just pop up in life. Right now it seems to be most prevalent in the tattoo scene. I have business cards from tattoo artists in Argentina for example who use GPK themes to promote themselves.”

dke toys star warsdke toys akbarDKE Toys is always up for checking out new artists in vinyl or plastic. If you’re such an artist, he would love to hear from you. “Just get in touch. I respond to all serious emails and phone calls and our info is readily available,” said Dov. DKE is willing to distribute items that are produced in certain quantities. Or, if they are making hand made action figures we evaluate if that was a good fit for a convention release and discuss what works best for us.”

With all this unique experience, Dov Kelemer is a welcome addition to the hobbyDB Advisory Council.

Be the first to leave a comment!

Introducing the ALL NEW Funko PROTOTYPES Database Powered by hobbyDB and NSNBS!

A guest post by Martin Morales.  Martin has been heavily researching protos and fakes since 2016. He is also the creator of No Scrappers, no B.S., a Funko prototype Facebook Community that helps make sure collectors stay in the know about everything protos.

Different from many toy makers, Funko gives their prototypes out to collectors, making them some of the most sought-after of Funko items. Referred to as “protos,” these rare items are given out at Fundays or social media giveaways. With Funko prototypes soaring in popularity, certain issues come up that aren’t something other toy companies have to deal with.

Funko Prototypes

Here are some of Martin’s protos!

Protecting Proto Collectors

Funko proto collectors follow a strict guideline also referred to as “doing the homework.” This entails tracing back the owners of the proto as far back as they can to get to Funko HQ (where they are distributed from). Since Funko distributes protos regularly, we do not accept factory rejects or scrap pieces taken from the factory as these would ruin the proto market.

Funko Prototypes

Courtesy of Helen Smith

Following this guideline allows us to stay afloat despite many efforts from China factory workers to sour the market with cheap, rough and oftentimes beat up scraps known in the community as “scrappers.”

All of these factors make it a bit difficult to become a new proto collector or navigate the proto market. If you are not careful and educated, you can get burned easily.

Tricera Ops production model and color prototype

Tricera Ops production model and color prototype owned by Gavin Ng

But then it’s worth it!

Two years ago, I started a Facebook community called No Scrappers, No B.S. The Community was built to research Funko prototypes and fakes, so we could help inform and protect proto collectors worldwide. We track and assemble albums based on releases and keep albums of scrap and mindstyle pieces. Over the years, the group has attracted the best of the best proto collectors around, including more than 15 Funko Hall of Fame members. We also now have a resource library with over 700 photos of legit pieces.

Funko Protos

 

Now we want to take our mission to the next level. To help further protect proto collectors far and wide, we’ve decided to partner up with hobbyDB (the world’s largest collectibles database) to bring you educational information on collecting as well as a database of legitimate Funko prototypes to assist you with your homework. You can see the all-new Funko Prototype database here.

Within the database, you’ll not only have the ability to research your protos, but you’ll also be able to add items to your digital collection and wish list. You’ll also discover the Collector Showcase page where you’ll be able to easily share and show off all of the awesome items in your collection.

Funko Prototypes Database

hobbyDB will also be powering a marketplace where you can sell your prototypes. This will be heavily vetted so you can have a safe and secure place to purchase Funko prototypes. The secured marketplace will also help us with lineage as the proto owners can be listed if they are members of hobbyDB. Pricing will be more accurate here as curators will focus ONLY on Funko prototypes with a team of highly skilled Curators.

The Funko Prototypes Database Price Guide to Come

As most proto sales happen behind closed doors, marketplaces such as eBay or hobbyDB are really the only places to get pricing on sold protos. However, different from hobbyDB, eBay doesn’t have the resources to keep up with shill bids or scrappers or other junk in the marketplace. Moving forward, we’ve decided to start with a clean slate or baseline price in the prototype database. These baseline prices come from the community who shared their purchases and pricing during the planning of this database. Other baseline prices will come from community auction groups. As people start selling on hobbyDB those prices will also be reflected in real-time.

The goal is to create a safe and secure database and marketplace for Funko Prototypes. hobbyDB is providing the platform and along with a team of Curators from NSNBS, will be looking at this as the future of buying and selling Funko Prototypes.

Comments (6 Comments)
Tom1

Wow, I had no idea!  I have plenty of Funko products but none of these and look forward to learning more.

Read all comments