Frito Bandito – He was the mascot for Frito’s Corn Chips from 1967 to 1971, voiced by Mel Blanc and sounding very much like Speedy Gonzales, another moderately racist and overly stereotyped character based on 1960s white America’s idea of a Mexican. He spoke very little English and was on the run from the Frito Bureau of Investigation. He originally had a gold tooth, which was nixed after complaints from the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee.
“Where’s the Beef” Lady – She was the most popular grouchy granny of 1984, but her stint as pitch lady for Wendy’s restaurants ended in 1985 when she apparently found the beef in Prego pasta sauce. That’s when Wendy’s fired then 83-year-old Clara Peller for conflict of interest, and the restaurant’s sales went into a two year slump. Peller passed away in 1987 at the age of 85.
Taco Bell Dog – Yet another Mexican stereotype, the oh-so-cute chihuahua with the Latin accent was Taco Bell’s best weapon in the burger wars of the day. Originally cast in the role of “girlfriend”, Gidget was the face of Taco Bell for three years after a last-minute casting change. That’s right, Gidget. The Taco Bell Dog was a girl. Taco Bell stopped the campaign in 1999 among legal troubles with the ad campaign’s original creators.
Erin Esurance – The pink-haired spy girl that got Esurance noticed appeared in over thirty commercials. She was meant to appeal to males ages 18 to 25, and that she did. As luck would have it, guys in that age bracket also have dirty minds, and with the advent of better consumer-level editing software, many began to make pornographic versions of Erin. When search results without content filters started returning more pornographic images than genuine images, the company stopped the campaign.
The Noid – The Noid would try his best to keep you from getting your crappy pizza in thirty minutes or less (by the way, a later ad campaign by Domino’s would focus on the fact that their pizza had been crappy for years). On January 30, 1989, a man named Kenneth Noid concluded that the ads were in fact a personal attack on him, so he walked into one of the chain’s restaurants in Atlanta with a .357 Magnum and held the employees hostage for over five hours. His demands were $100,000, getaway transportation, and a copy of “The Widow’s Son” by Robert Anton Wilson. Everyone was OK in the end, and the police chief made a statement that the suspect was “para-Noid” (See what he did there?).
California Raisins – How this ad campaign escaped being labeled racist is anyone’s guess. These commercials featured anywhere from four to ten anthropomorphized and very African-American looking raisins signing blues standards and Motown songs. They released four albums and even charted with one. Originally created for the California Raisin Advisory Board (What kind of raisin advice can there be to give?), these little guys ended up pitching for Post Raisin Bran and Hardees.
Joe Camel – With his own line of clothes, backpacks, glassware, and toys, Joe made Camel a household name from 1987 to 1997. Smiling in his blacked-out Wayfarers and with his vagina-like mouth, he became just as well-known by six year olds as Mickey Mouse. Not that Joe was worried about the competition, because the Disney rodent stopped selling cigarettes years before. Mangini v. R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company put an end to the campaign however, when the tobacco company agreed to settle out of court and stop shilling nicotine to children.
King Ding Dong – Can we all just agree from the start than no mascot intended for children should be named “King Ding Dong?” It’s already bad enough they chose such a sophomorically suggestive name for their snack cakes, “Some Ho-Ho ate my Ding Dong, Honey Bun.” The King left the building sometime in the 1980s, although if Starkist can bring back a Beatnik fish that only dreams of being slaughtered and canned, it’s not impossible to imagine the King regaining his throne.