Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Slimer’s back! In juice form: 7 pop-culture tie-ins that outlived their inspirations

1. Hi-C Ecto Cooler
Like an over-reliance on digital effects and “special edition” re-cuts of decades-old films, the pop culture world can also sarcastically thank George Lucas for the proliferation of tie-in merchandise. Not that this type of thing was invented for Star Wars—that film and its sequels just set a new standard, the adventure in space that launched a thousand Happy Meals, bedspread patterns, and snack foods. But as the term suggests, the shelf life of a tie-in hews closely to its inspiration’s stay in the zeitgeist; rare is the case like Hi-C Ecto Cooler, the citrus-flavored outcome of a partnership between Minute Maid and the producers of The Real Ghostbusters. Introduced to promote the animated spin-off of 1984’s Ghostbusters, Ecto Cooler was manufactured from 1987 through 2001, outlasting the animated adventures of its spectral mascot—the Venkman-vexing phantom Slimer—by a full decade. The only Ghostbusters-licensed product that could best the carpet-wrecking abilities of Kenner’s Ecto-Plazm, Ecto Cooler mimicked Slimer’s otherworldly shade of green, a quality that survived the ghost’s departure from the packaging and the product’s ultimate re-branding as Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen. The real deal has been locked up in the Coca-Cola Containment Unit since the turn of the 21st century, but in a testament to Ecto Cooler’s staying power, online attempts to recreate the original recipe abound.

2. Dunder Mifflin Paper Company
The Office was an unassuming merchandising dynamo, the desk-cluttering props of its corporate setting leading to ready-made “World’s Best Boss” mugs and collectible Dwight Schrute bobble heads. In November 2011, Staples took this concept one step further, licensing the name of the faux documentary’s fictional paper company, Dunder Mifflin, for a line of office supplies that contain other sly allusions to the series. (“Quabity First” reads the products’ Creed Bratton-approved seal, for which poor Debbie Brown probably lost her job all over again.) That’s ironic on two counts: First, The Office consistently accuses Staples and its big-box competitors of driving small suppliers like Dunder Mifflin out of business. Second: The real-life Dunder Mifflin was introduced at a time when its fictional counterpart was hitting an all-time low (i.e., The Office’s dreadful eighth season). Yet Staples subsidiary Quill.com continues to stock Dunder Mifflin products—which include facial tissue and “Office Olympics”-ready storage boxes that convert into beanbag-toss boards—nearly a year after NBC stopped stocking new episodes of The Office. While its inspiration luxuriates in the syndication afterlife, the Dunder Mifflin brand persists, ready to baffle future patrons with a “diversity pack” of multi-color sticky notes. (Watch “Diversity Day,” office managers of the future! It’s on Netflix!) When it comes time to clear the warehouses, Quill should call its clearance sale a “rerun marathon.”

3. Flintstones Vitamins and Post Pebbles cereal
When The Flintstones premiered on ABC in the fall of 1960, the show’s “Honeymooners in the Stone Age” gimmick seemed like little more than an excuse for some prehistoric puns and an inspiration for a future “Weird Al” Yankovic parody. But Hanna-Barbera clearly saw the merchandising potential of the modern Stone Age family: Per the times, the characters shilled for Winston cigarettes during the show’s first two seasons, and later appeared in an in-house film for Busch beer. But it was the Flintstones’ crossover into the world of kiddie vitamins and kiddie cereal that would forever preserve them in sugarcoated amber. Miles Laboratories introduced Flintstones Chewable Vitamins in 1968, while Post Foods debuted Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles in 1970. Both products were released after the show’s cancellation; today, both products remain in grocery stores long after the show’s cancellation. Despite years of syndication and two live-action movies—one of them featuring Stephen Baldwin as Barney—it’s hard to believe that young children gobbling down Flintstones vitamins or rotting their teeth with the new Poppin’ Pebbles know Fred and the gang as anything other than product pitchmen.

4. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
When Forrest Gump won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1995, it was more than a film: It was a cultural phenomenon, earning more than $677 million in worldwide box office, spawning a hugely successful soundtrack, and inspiring more than a few well-meaning people to add one of Forrest’s many catchphrases to their own personal lexicon. Yet, of the numerous iconic moments in the film, “Bubba” Blue’s ode to shrimp as the fruit of the sea was the only one to turn into a genuinely successful merchandising opportunity. In 1996, Viacom partnered with a restaurant franchising company to turn Mykelti Williamson’s speech into reality. Thus Bubba Gump Shrimp Company was created, a seafood chain with a special focus on shrimp and dedication to all things Forrest Gump—and a place where Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of the Winston Groom novel is still the most popular film in the world, 20 years later. Want to test your movie trivia? Your server can help you with that. Need to flag someone down for a drink refill? Just flip the license plate on your table from “Run, Forrest, Run” to “Stop, Forrest, Stop.” And of course, there’s a gift shop you can visit for your very own box of chocolates. Just don’t try to ask for the pineapple shrimp Bubba mentioned in his speech—it’s not on the menu.


5. Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper
Anyone who’s seen Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is familiar with the Everlasting Gobstopper, the long-lasting candy that the titular candy man says will be perfect “for children with very little pocket money.” Unlike other products—Fizzy Lifting Drink, the gum that turned Violet Beauregarde violet—from the movie and Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, though, the Everlasting Gobstopper became an actual retail product—one that’s lasted for decades. In 1971, Chicago-based Breaker Confections licensed the name “Wonka” to sell candy, though it didn’t actually start selling Wonka-related candy until 1976, a full five years after Willy Wonka hit theaters. That’s when the Gobstopper hit stores, and though the actual product—now made by Nestlé in Itasca, Illinois—doesn’t have the staying power of Dahl’s original candy creation, it’s still got the teeth-breaking intensity described in the movie. Wonka—the brand, not the man—has even introduced seasonal variations of the Gobstopper product like Gobstopper Snowballs and Gobstopper Heartbreakers, both of which are available around specific holidays.

6. Cheers airport bars
For 11 years, Boston served as the setting of Cheers, and the city is now home to two bars with legitimate claim to being Sam Malone’s watering hole: The former Bull And Finch Pub (featured in the series’ exterior shots) and a functioning replica of the set at Beantown’s Faneuil Hall. But just as the show was going off the air in the early ’90s, Cheers became the place where everybody knew your name all over the world. At that time, a series of officially licensed Cheers-themed pubs popped up in more than 15 airports around the world. Not only were the bars perfect replicas of the TV set (something the Bull And Finch version couldn’t offer), they also featured two animatronic robots named “Hank” and “Bob”—clearly modeled after Norm and Cliff—who would enjoy some preprogrammed conversation every few minutes before turning off and slouching against the bar (just like the real Norm and Cliff!). These robotic versions of beloved characters were intended to bring joy to thousands of airport travelers, but they also brought difficulty for actors George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, who sued Paramount Pictures—which licensed the bars—for exploiting their identities without their permission. (The lawsuit went on for years before being settled out of court.) The Cheers bars offered menu items like Sam’s Submarine and Norm’s Brewski, as well as a slew of souvenirs including keychains, shot glasses, lighters, and satin jackets. Long after the show went off the air, those themed pubs—and those robotic re-creations—served as a slice of “home” for Cheers fans who happened to have a layover in the right airport.  


7. The Anaheim Ducks
Founded as an National Hockey League expansion team in 1993, The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were just one of Disney’s many attempts to capitalize on its popular sports-movie franchise, The Mighty Ducks. (Those attempts also included a bizarrely unrelated TV show and a pinball-based attraction at the company’s attempt to crack the virtual-reality market, DisneyQuest). Playing home games a short distance from Disneyland at a stadium known as The Pond, the Ducks were the most notorious example of brand synergy in sports; their distinctive duckbilled logo and eggplant-and-turquoise uniforms received prominent placement in The Mighty Ducks’ big-screen sequels. When Disney sold the team in 2005, its name was simplified and its jerseys were un-Disneyfied. In the current 2013-2014 season, the Anaheim Ducks are one of the best teams in the NHL, and are now better known for their impressive record than their humble origin as a way to promote a series of movies starring Emilio Estevez.

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