Wacky Packs: The hottest thing since Hula Hoops (1974)
By Sue Chastain – The Minneapolis Star (Minnesota) April 25, 1974 [addresses removed]
Perhaps never before in the history of bubblegum have so many little kids plunked down so many pennies — and dollar bills — for so many meaningless little stickers.
The stickers are called Wacky Packages; and besides being ridiculous, stupid and silly, they’re the biggest hit with 6-to- 14-year-olds since their maker, Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., introduced Bazooka bubble gum.
A 5-cent Wacky Package includes a skinny slab of bubble gum, a piece of an ongoing puzzle and, most important, two Wacky stickers that are put-downs of commercial products.
Harassed Twin Cities clerks say the Wacky blitz started here when Wacky Packs were introduced a year ago. “We sold 7,388 of them in five days,” said A. J. Wisniewski, manager of the G. C. Murphy Co., Bloomington. “This is the hottest thing since the Hula Hoop.”
“I wasn’t even aware they made them until all of a sudden we were having trouble getting them,” complained a suburban drugstore clerk.
“I don’t know how the kids found out about it.” Drugstore managers in the area claim they not only can’t get as many Wacky Packages as they could self, they can’t keep them on the counter once they get them.
”We have a bunch of little kids waiting in line Wednesday afternoon when our candy order comes in,” said Mrs. Laura Skophammer, a clerk at Bloomington Drugs. ”It’s unbelievable.”
Clerks say it’s not unusual for a parent to call every day for weeks until a shipment comes in, then reserve one or two boxes. Wacky Packs come 48 to a box.
Distributors say they, too, find it almost impossible to keep the stickers in stock. A Weisman Co., a large distributor of gum and novelties in the Twin Cities area, reports sales of 4,403 boxes — 211,344 Wacky Packages — since the rage started.
“And we could have sold more had we had them,” a Weisman employee said.
Though a small piece of bubble gum is included in each Wacky Package, even the Topps people admit that it’s not the gum the kids are buying — it’s the stickers.
“It’s a very, very small piece of gum,” explained Virginia Murray, a cashier at Clancy’s Drugs, Edina. “From what I can see, they don’t even keep the puzzle — it’s the stickers they like.”
But the Topps people rather coldly reject any suggestion that the gum might eventually be eliminated from the Wacky Package.
“The name of the company is still the Topps Chewing Gum Company,” said a Topps spokesman, with dignity.
Wacky Packs were introduced six years ago as cards rather than stickers and met mostly with boredom in the marketplace. Now there’s a whole new market, and it’s a market of kids who have been bombarded by both television commercials and appeals to consumer awareness.
“We think youngsters are a lot brighter than people give them credit for,” a Topps spokesman said. ”Besides, it’s our job to come up with things that appeal to kids.”‘
“They’re funny,’‘ explains 11-year-old Eric Bjorgen, New Brighton, who says he had 175 Wacky Packs when his collection was at its height. ”They’ve got a lot of color — most of my friends stick them on their notebooks.”
Debbie Phythian, Arden Hills, another 11-year-old, said she started collecting them when she noticed everyone else did.
“I thought, ‘These must be really neat,'” she said. “I had 225 at one time, but I sold them all. At the end, I thought they weren’t really worth that much — I got sick and tired of them.”
People in the industry say fads like this normally can be expected to last six to eight weeks. But Wacky Packs already have celebrated their first anniversary, are going into their seventh series of 33 Wacky Pack stickers and are still selling strongly.
How much money they’re making for Topps — which has an annual income from various gum-card-candy times of nearly $40 million — is a well-guarded secret.
And the reaction of the companies spoofed in Wacky Packs is as unpredictable as the rest of the fad.
“Some have asked not to be included,” admitted a Topps spokesman, “but as a matter of fact, others have been upset that they weren’t included.”
VINTAGE WACKY PACKAGES – CANDY
Stickers – The desert candy
A play on Snickers (Wacky Packages sticker from 1974)
Curses Baby Runt
“Fastest eating candy” based on Curtis Baby Ruth candy bars (Wacky Packages sticker from 1979)
Bustedfinger broken candy
The Wacky Packs version of Butterfinger bars (Wacky Packages sticker from 1979)
Wacky Packs Bit-O-Money candy (1974)
A play on Bit-O-Honey candy
Sugar Daffy – you’ll go nuts over it
A spoof version of Sugar Daddy caramel lollipops
Retro Wacky Packs from the 1970s – Tipsy Roll POP
Here’s an alternative world Tootsie Pop lollipop
Gadzooka Sugarmess Bubble Gum
“Guaranteed to put on weight” version of Bazooka sugarless bubble gum
Tic Toc: Tiny time bombs
A Wacky Packs version of Tic Tac breath mints
Milk Muds: Makes milk taste just like mud
The wacky version of Milk Duds chocolate/caramel candy (Wacky Packages sticker from 1974)
You’ll put on Pounds: Indescribably fattening
A play on Mounds coconut & chocolate candy bars (Wacky Packages sticker from 1973)
ALSO SEE: 50+ vintage scratch ‘n sniff stickers
Only sold to Chumps
Wacky Packages version of Charms candy. (Wacky Packages sticker from 1973)
Shots – Delicious Gun Drops
Parody of Dots Gum Drops (Wacky Packages sticker from 1973)
Wacky Packs: New fad for the children of the Skeptical Seventies (1973)
Excerpted from an article by Owen Edwards, New York Magazine – October 1, 1973
“… 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.
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…”
Vintage Wacky Packs cards for cereals: Cheapios, Weakies, Triks & more (1970s)
Triks – Practical joker cereal
Wacky Packages card based on Trix cereal
Pest Awful Bits
Wacky Packs card based on Post Alpha Bits cereal
Parody trading card based on Cap’n Crunch cereal
Bum Chex cereal – Wacky Packages from the 1970s
Super Cigar Crisp
The wacky take on Super Sugar Crisp cereal (which eventually was renamed Golden Crisp).
Cheapios cereal (1973)
Here’s the Wacky Packages take on Cheerios
Wacky Packages card based on Kellogg’s All-Bran
Generally Moldy Weakies cereal
Based on General Mills’ Wheaties cereal
Wacky Packs card parody of Farina cereal
Small fry go wacky over Wacky Packs (1974)
by Douglas S. Looney – The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) March 14, 1974
Kids have long known that a socially significant act is to kick a beer can down a street, that scientific research is throwing a pebble in a lake and watching the ripples, that great poetry is “eeny, meeny, miney, moe…” Life is simple when you’re little.
So it’s no surprise that youngsters ranging from 6 to 14 years of age are deciding in droves that stupid little stickers called Wacky Packages fit into their wacky little worlds just fine. And big people are discovering that the stupid little stickers fit into their wacky big worlds just fine — because there’s money in it.
A Wacky Pack is nothing if it’s not cheap. Almost everywhere they sell for about a nickel. The pack includes a skinny slab of bubble gum and a piece of an ongoing puzzle.
But most important, it contains two Wacky stickers (200 different creations so far) that are put-downs of commercial products designed to make kids chortle.
Samples: “Old Spit (for Old Spice) Cologne.” Subline: “Aint Worth A Scent.” “Dampers (for Pampers), the disposable diapers. Keeps wet and uncomfortable. Sure to rust your hampers.” “Head and Boulders (for “Shoulders”) “for people with rocks in their heads.”
Hysterical, aren’t they? They are if you’re one of the millions of little ones harassing store clerks from coast to coast. Since their introduction last March they have popped up in town after city in an avalanche of small-fry adulation.
Predictably, no one knows why. Least of all the Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., people who crank out assorted gum-card-candy items by the zillion (their famed baseball cards open their 23rd season soon) to separate kids from nearly $40 million this year.
“They’re entertaining, fun, humorous, satirical,” Joel J. Shorin, Topps president says. “They’re great for sticking on blackboards and books and bikes. They’re consumable and tradable.”
What he doesn’t point to are probably the three main reasons for sales being blown all out of proportion to common sense: Wacky Packs don’t mean anything, they aren’t worth anything, and they’re silly and foolish. In other words, they’re perfect for every child.
Ah, maybe their redeeming quality is that they are educational? “Heavens no,” says Shorin, who has been in this family business far years and likely cut his first cavities on Topps Bazooka bubble gum. “If I say it’s educational, parents buy it but the kids will have nothing to do with it. Then you’ve got troubles.”
A competitor says fads like this normally can be expected to last “six to eight weeks.”
So it is the marvel of industry that Wacky Packs are about to celebrate their firm anniversary — with the release of the sixth series of 33 more Wacky Pack stickers. Sales are, well, who knows? When numbers and money come up, Shorin gets the stricken look of a man who has just seen his largest bubble pricked with a pin.
“I’d just rather not talk about money. I don’t want to give any aid and comfort to our already confused competitors.” Whatever, sales are way up in the millions.
Distributors confirm confidentially that Topps peddles a box of Wacky Packs (48 individual packages) to them for $1.56; they in turn sell them to retailers for about $1.75, and retailers hit up the terribly eager kids for at least $2.40.
Steve Kagno, a candy buyer for Garber Brothers distributors in Randolph, Mass, estimates that his company has sold more than 1.1 million Wacky Packs in less than a year. This represents a retail take of about $55,000.
An East Coast drugstore reports it receives many calls from parents reserving entire boxes of Wacky Packs. In Nashville, a growing problem involves kids swiping the two stickers from a package — and leaving the eventual purchaser with only the gum.
That’s a dreadful trick, for as even Shorin admits: “They’re not buying the gum, they’re buying the stickers.”
A Topps competitor, the Fleer Corp. of Philadelphia, recently plunged into the fickle jingle of youngster-wants with its “Crazy Magazine Covers,” very much a mimic of Wacky Packs, but Shorin goes chomping along, conscious of what he calls “good taste.”
It is rumored that he once refused to allow a play-off on Alpo Dog Food that would have had the catchline: “Made from less fortunate slower dogs.”
“We’re not in the gum business,” Shorin says. “We’re in the children’s entertainment business. That’s all we want to do.”
How long before Wacky Packs go to Hula Hoop heaven? Shorin who prohibits conversation with people in his creative department and says he doesn’t know who thought up the idea, just shrugs and looks rich. “It will last,” he intones, “until the kids lose interest. then we’ll try to bring out something else better.”
Shorin plays his stickers close to his vest when he Says some “very big companies” have protested the spoofs while others have asked to be included. He won’t name the companies.
Oh, yes, you say you have a good idea for a Wacky Pack? Save it. The company refuses to even consider your suggestions. Shorin says: “We have professionals to do that.”