Wacky Packs on New York magazine (1973)

Wacky Packs: New fad for the children of the Skeptical Seventies

by Owen Edwards

“… Wacky Packages are selling rampant with their put-downs of products that kids have had thrown at them by TV and Mom..!”

Don’t look now, but the pink peril is laying siege to the affluent society. Even as you read this, the all new Wacky Packages Series #3 is filtering from candy counters into wee wondering minds, and who knows when (and how) it will all end?

What are Wacky Packages?, you may well ask. Putting it simply — too simply in fact — they are a new twist on the classic bubble gum card, that hoary ruse created to sell the uneatable to the unbearable. They are also, in a time when polls show public belief in institutions at an all-time low, seedling skepticism in its purest form. If a stick-on bubble gum card can take an old faithful cereal like Cap’n Crunch, change it into Cap’n Crud, and become the Munchkin madness of the year, maybe somebody up there better take a long look at what’s turning the kiddies on — and off.

In their minor art form, Wacky Packages are revolutionary. Gone are the jocks and rock stars, the traditional card ploys. Wacky Pack puns are the Mad magazine effect leaking sideways into the under-culture. Yet when they were tried out by the Topps Chewing Gum Company six years ago, under the guidance of former manager of product development Stan Hart (a regular contributor to Mad), they went nowhere. Now the times are obviously right. Watergatian Weltschmerz is nibbling the collective unconscious, and Wacky Packages are selling rampant with their put-downs of products that kids have had thrown at them and into them daily by TV and Mom. From air-ball breakfast cereals to dishwashing detergents that make ladies beautiful, familiarity seems finally to be breeding contempt — and a generation of gripers.

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No one over fifteen who is not hopelessly odd, of course, can really figure what’s going to make kids laugh, or why. To some grownups Wacky Packages are about as funny as molting budgies, residing on the humor map in a murky limbo between banana peels and knock-knock jokes. Even taking into account normal pre-teen vapidity and the unknowable tides of any fad, it’s hard to believe that such criminally inane clinkers as “Kooloff’s ALL-BRAIN — the Cereal That Goes to Your Head” and “Botch Tape — Stickiest in Town” could blow any micro-bopper’s mind.

Yet Wacky Packages may be the biggest marketing coup of all for the slightly warped visionaries at Topps who are, they say, charged with “actively creating and introducing innovative new products designed to entertain children” — i.e., getting the little freaks to buy the stuff. Even Norman Liss, PR counsel for Topps and a veteran of some of history’s hottest card campaigns, is moved to call Wacky Packages “the greatest of all great.” PR directors are not stingy with hyperbole, but bear in mind that Liss is not talking about operatic sopranos.

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