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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Hostess comics ads

by John Jackson Miller

Hostess has asked a court to allow it to go into bankruptcy, selling its iconic brands — and it is of interest to comics fans because of an iconic series of advertisements that appeared in comic books in the mid- and late 1970s. The one-page comic ads appeared in Marvel, DC, Harvey, Archie, and Gold Key comics (but only those using Warner Brothers characters) and used the companies' characters in stories about Hostess Twinkies, Cupcakes, and Fruit Pies. Click to see near-comprehensive assortment of Hostess comics ads; at least 234 different ones exist!

The ads were produced in-house at the publishers in question; Bob Rozakis wrote several for DC, and is interviewed on the SeanBaby site, which also has a colorful collection of content on the campaign. The ads have been fodder for lampooning in comics for years; normalman interrupted Cutey Bunny filming an ad in an issue of his comics series in the 1980s, and there were quite a few more.

I arrived late to the game in 1999 with my Faraway Looks column in Comics Buyer's Guide, where every week I wrote a fake news story from the world of the Hostess ads, where you'd have political movements like the Phoomie Goonies being distracted from their cause — which appeared to be taking over post offices — by fruit pies. What a wonderful world!

Seriously, the Hostess campaign, as I first wrote back then, was one of the more effective ad buys in print history. Comics are considered to have strong "pass-along" readership since they're not destroyed after they're read — and in the case of these comics, they've probably been passed along at least a dozen times each on average since their publication. With the advertised products still in existence, the ads aren't just part of the popular culture — they're still doing their job selling Twinkies. That really should be a consideration for advertisers approaching comics: if your product is likely to still be available 10 or 20 or 50 years later, a comic-book ad is a better print buy than most. Especially if you do something clever with it!

(Personal plug: On that exact score, I have a story about classic comic book ads in Bart Simpson #77,  out in two weeks.)

Whatever develops for Hostess in the future — hoping for the best for everyone involved — the ads were a fun addition to the history of comics. Now, I'm off to try to make sure the Giant Frog gets a good home...
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