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When You Can’t Find Bubble Yum

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 22, 2017

Today’s comic ends on an ellipse rather than a period, and I would like to leave it at that. So instead we’re going to follow Ted’s lead when things get difficult and find momentary solace in candy.

Introduced in the early 70s and barely making into the 1980s (though a version called “Curly Wurly” continues to be sold in international markets and through retro candy dealers), the Marathon bar was a long, chocolate-coated caramel bar that looked like you either had lopped off someone’s hair braid or moths had gotten at it.

Packaged in a bright red wrapper with yellow typeface in an era when every TV show’s credits were in exact same color (mostly because it stood out brightest against the maelstrom of earth tones and wildly conflicting patterns that exemplified every set dressing or character outfit), the candy prominently featured a ruler on back to prove it was a full, impressive, perhaps imposing eight inches. And though today’s comic says otherwise, the bar’s sheer size would make it thoroughly impossible to actually shove inside a vending machine, which seems like a rather poor marketing and retail decision in hindsight.

You’ll also notice that the bar measures 20 cm in length, even though the Marathon brand (in the braided format) was sold only in the states. That’s because the candy was launched just as the US was gearing up to switch to the metric system—resulting in numerous conversations in which an exasperated eight-year-old would have to keep reminding their disinterested parents the difference between “deci” and “deca”—only for the country to simply start selling soda in two-liter bottles to streamline the global manufacturing process and keep the prefix “kilo” for whenever a drug smuggler in a movie would open a crate of cocaine, wipe clear the coffee beans used to through off the scent of detection dogs, slice open a bag, dip their pinky in, and realize they hadn’t washed their hands after going to the bathroom, thereby ruining at least ten grand right there.

Like all good products the candy had its own spokesperson, in this case “Marathon John,” which worked well with both the brand name as well as the increased awareness and acceptance of porn movies in the early 70s. With each commercial the candy’s John extolled the virtues of the product to someone who—like all “villains” in candy and cereal commercials—burst into a room and immediately went into bullet-point detail about who they are and what they want, introducing children everywhere to the concept of an “elevator pitch” or what happens when you eat all of mommy’s diet pills. But soon they would be soothed and even satisfied as Marathon John showed them the importance of taking your time, making things last, savoring with the tongue, and finding a rhythm that works best for both you and the candy as together you increase momentum until you can conclude in a satiating snack experience for all.

Fun Fact: In the UK, the Marathon was not a candy-coated version of the caduceus symbol but rather a chocolate-covered peanut bar in a brown packet with blue lettering. It was eventually renamed Snickers.

I don’t remember having a Marathon bar as a kid. I do remember enjoying Pop Rocks, Astro Pops, and Space Dust, which was more or less Pop Rocks sawdust and featured a commercial in which you get to experience what it would be like if your blood cells started talking only for you to wake up in a field several days later, partially shaved.

But the candy I remember most from that time was Bubble Yum. My dad worked on promotion for “the first soft gum” from the very beginning, which meant I received boxes and boxes of the stuff both in original and grape flavor. (I also loved the gum’s packaging, because when you’re the son of a graphic designer and you can’t play any sport well except for the ones you make up alone in your backyard, this is what you do.) Alas, I received all this gum just as I had made a New Year’s resolution to not chew gum for a full year, having previously been known to shove several sticks of Fruit Stripe in my maw at once. (I should also note that I was so proud that I actually stuck to my resolution that I re-upped with it for another year. And another. It has now been 40 years since I’ve chewed gum for reasons that I can no longer explain except with “Got to keep the streak going.”)

So instead I started selling the gum on the bus to and from school. This was a time when for some reason half the kids in my school seemed to be running transient candy shops, purchasing the candy at the store and then reselling it at a mark-up that could be justified by convenience. However, since I got all my gum for free I managed to undersell not only other kids but the supermarkets as well. Eventually being both very shy and cringing every time the bush driver yelled at me for I guess operating without a small business license, I switched to the wholesale end and started selling the gum exclusively to the kids who then sold it at their inflated price. Then I started collecting all doubles and triples of my Topps baseball cards, drew my own packaging, and sold those packs on the bus instead. Sadly, my business acumen peaked at age ten.

Of course, any mention of Bubble Yum must include one of the great 70s urban legends (that also played out in my school) in which it was posited that the only reason the gum was so soft and chewy was because it was made with spider eggs, a feat of childhood logic that would be akin to “You know how they carbonate Coke? Possum embryos.” But the rumors spread so fast and became so brand-destructive that the company was forced to debunk it with a full-page ad in The New York Times.

The other thing I recall about Bubble Yum is going to the marketing headquarters with my dad as a kid and getting to see the actual puppet for Flavor Fiend. This will mean absolutely nothing to almost anyone—including people my own age—thereby showing the brief lifecycle of almost all commercial spokescharacters. (And like many kid-focused product spokescharacters, Flavor Fiend followed the typical narrative arc of “I must taste that!/Wy won’t you let me have that?/Do you know my doctor says I need that to live?”) But it was another wonderfully unique moment in a childhood in which I got to see the inner workings of a lot of pop culture phenomenons and marketing campaigns thanks to my dad, and that all adds up to something far less fleeting than a childhood trend.

2 Responses

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  1. David said, on October 22, 2017 at 11:52 am

    In 1980 or 1981, I bought a ton of Hubba Bubba gum (“Big bubbles, no troubles!”) when my family was on vacation in the USA, then sold pieces for a quarter each to my fellow Canadian classmates, as the product hadn’t come to our country yet – but we still got the commercials on all the American border channels we watched. I was so irate when one guy wouldn’t pay up after I trusted his “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday” BS. Fool me once…

  2. Nick said, on November 6, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    “Introduced in the early 70s and barely making into the 1980s (though a version called “Curly Wurly” continues to be sold in international markets…”
    Almost. The Curly Wurly was invented in the West Midlands in England in 1970. Mars’ US version (a sickly pale shadow of the leviathan original) didn’t crawl into existence until 1973.
    You’re welcome.

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