Creating an advertising mascot should be simple: All you need is a memorable figure that shows off a product and doesn't scream racial slurs all the time. But apparently creating a solid character to shill your goods is more difficult than it seems. It must be, otherwise why would so many corporations give their seemingly mundane mascots backstories so dark they might have wandered out of a David Lynch film.
You all know the Ping-Pong-ball-headed clown-thing who inexplicably represents the fast food chain Jack in the Box.
Jack in the Box Inc.
He's like if Ronald McDonald stopped hanging out with criminals and really got his shit together.
But for some reason, he has an origin story, and it is less "funny clown," and more "messed up Somali warlord." Jack in the Box used to have clowns on their drive-thru microphones, and when the chain wanted to change their cutesy image, they ran a 1980 ad wherein they blew up the clown mascot, ushering in a decade where all news in America was announced via explosion.
But in the '90s they brought the clown mascot back. This time he was a man in a suit, who claimed he had returned "thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery" and that ever since his fateful demolition he's "vowed to one day reclaim my rightful place as the head of Jack in the Box." What was his first act upon his return? He marches into Jack in the Box corporate headquarters and detonates a bomb that annihilates the boardroom, implicitly murdering the entire board of directors.
So every time you see those funny commercials with their clown who loves business, you're actually watching a vengeful tyrant who seized control with an act of terrorism. Enjoy your god-awful tacos!
Chuck E. Cheese and his animatronic band were recently discontinued, so let's pray they never learn about the Jack in the Box clown's rise to power. But where did Charles E. Cheese, as he's known to his loved ones, come from?
The Big Cheese's website sends you to a children's book, which explains that Chuck was an orphan. Because nobody knew his parents, nobody knew his birthday, either (mice believe that birth certificates are a form of government oppression), so he never got to have his own birthday party. He then became obsessed with the idea of birthdays, and painstakingly observed other's parties, because watching someone else get special treatment while you're left out in the cold is a sure path to happiness.
CEC Entertainment, Inc.
"That's why I pee in the ball pit every morning."
At no point does it explain why the orphanage didn't just give the infant Cheese an arbitrary birthday. Follow up question: Does he also not know how old he is?
Chuck eventually made his way to New York City, where a pizza shop owner found him, and at this point...the author realized that no one would ever care enough to read the whole book, so the rest of the story is essentially Ratatouille. But why would a restaurant chain feel the need to write this tragic backstory for a dancing mouse who gives kids terrible pizza, and exchanges fifty dollars' worth of arcade tickets for a tootsie roll? Did we really need personal tragedy and obsession to ground that particular character?
Spuds MacKenzie was a bull terrier that represented Budweiser in the late 1980s. If there was a fun event full of attractive twenty-somethings back in 1988, odds are good you could find one confused party dog sitting there, waiting for somebody to drop a sausage. But, while critics sought to shut down the Spud ads for supposedly appealing to children, they missed the worst part: Budweiser desperately trying to sell you on the idea that Spuds was humping human women.
Yes, a huge part of establishing that Spuds was a "party animal" was filling his commercials with scantily clad ladies who licked their lips, stared, asked him to "call me," and made it abundantly clear that they wished the dog would give them a bone. That's bad enough, but then Spuds started showing up to live events flanked by models. Dick Clark asked a trio of attractive women basic questions about the commercials, but they refused to break from their "in a polyamorous relationship with a dog" characters. So let's have a moment of silence for the women who dreamed of making it big in Hollywood, but were instead paid to imply they enjoyed bestiality. When it's suggested that Spuds is a female dog, they respond that he wouldn't be surrounded by such beautiful women if he were. Which is just...a whole other mess of strange gender role assumptions we don't have time to unpack here.
Google's Android is supposed to be as simple and family-friendly as possible, because it's tough to build a worldwide empire around a murderous robot. And yet that's exactly what they did in this 2012 Super Bowl commercial for the Sony Ericsson phone, in which the Android participates in back alley surgery to graft stolen human body parts onto itself. It's like Sony and Google really wanted to make some fucked-up Cronenberg film, but they only had a commercial budget.
"Remember when we only wanted your personal information?"
The ad was aiming for "edgy and memorable," but massively overshot into "horrific and crazy." Whose thumbs are those? How were they obtained? Why is this surgery being done in a sketchy back alley? Is it legal? Why do robots need thumbs to work a phone, anyway?
Don't worry! Some of those questions were addressed in a follow-up commercial - because there was a follow-up commercial.
And somehow, it's worse than we though: The Android dresses up as a sexy human woman, seduces a tourist, drugs him, hacks off his thumbs, then escapes to a back alley surgeon to get the still-wriggling digits attached to its body. And apparently it also either bribes or intimidates the cops into not investigating the crime, as they just laugh at the victim's wounds. So Google's Android roofied a man and ruined his life so it could participate in an underground crime ring that's harvesting human body parts so robots can play video games on consumer electronics.
That really only leaves us with one outstanding question: How does this make us want to buy a phone again?
David Klesh's writing has also appeared on the Faith Hope and Fiction blog.
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