While the General Mills Fun Group (GMFGI) is probably familiar to most collectors of vintage Star Wars toys, few pause to wonder why a company known for producing sugarcoated breakfast crapola was in the business of making action figures.
General Mills acquired Kenner in the late '60s, not long after the the cereal giant absorbed Rainbow Crafts, the producer of Play-Doh. GMFGI's acquisition of Parker Brothers in the early '70s brought yet another great asset under the umbrella of the Fun Group. As its name suggests, it was a subsidiary that focused on producing toys for children.
If you think about it, the GMFGI strategy makes sense. As a major producer of breakfast cereals, General Mills knew how to sell edible junk to children and their parents. Why wouldn't they parlay that experience into selling non-edible junk to the same cohort?
Doubtless, the cereal-toy coupling suggested a bevy of great marketing opportunities. Now General Mills could promote their toys through their cereals and their cereals through their toys. You can almost see the marketing guys, garbed in leisure suits, rubbing their palms together and whispering "synergy."
Adults everywhere were either too high on quaaludes or too distracted by Chico and the Man to recognize this as an insidious usurpation of parental privilege. And their kids weren't about to complain. What self-respecting American kid objects to being exploited in the interest of sugar and toys?
Anyway, in 1977 Kenner acquired a license to produce brightly colored trinkets in association with a movie called Star Wars. With the success of the film, an overlap of General Mills cereals and Kenner Star Wars toys became a near inevitability.
While the Star Wars-cereal crossover took a few different forms, the one I'll focus on here concerns a poster offer that appeared on boxes of Cheerios in the fall of 1978.
Really, "poster" is a bit of a misnomer. As we'll see, the item offered was a toy advertisement/coupon cleverly disguised as a decorative object.
But as toy collectors we love toy advertising, so a loss for '70s kids is a win for us.
Along with the absolute worst representation of a lightsaber in the history of the graphic arts, the ad on the box's front featured a call-out boasting that the poster was two-sided, thereby alleviating the fear that General Mills would print these on the cheaper one-sided style of paper.
Why, I wonder, was the refund offer not available in Kansas, Washington, and Wisconsin?
Maybe because those states were on the wrong side of what I like to think of as the Lameson-Dixon line.
The reverse of the box provides additional information regarding the posters. More importantly, it features representations of Kenner toys, including some of the earliest entries in the company's line of Star Wars large-size action figures.
Kenner announced the promotion to wholesalers via this brochure, timed for the crucial holiday season. Its focus was consumer promotions connected to Star Wars.
In addition to the cereal tie-in it mentions the well-known Burger Chef promotion as well as what became known as The Star Wars Holiday Special, then referred to rather vaguely -- and entirely fallaciously -- as a "thrilling Star Wars special."
If you've seen the Holiday Special . . . well, first off, allow me to express my deepest sympathies.
But if you've seen it you know that it wasn't thrilling to anyone but the wookiee grandfather who watched the hologram of Diahann Caroll impersonating Donna Summer.
By the way, does anyone else find it funny that the whole world believes Donna Summer was in the Holiday Special even though the singer was played by Diahann Caroll? How, I wonder, does Ms. Caroll feel about this? Probably like Woody Harrelson when I told him I was convinced that he and Matthew McConaughey were the same person.
The Cheerios campaign is mentioned on the back of the brochure. So are some Star Wars-themed promotions that popped up on other brands of cereal marketed by General Mills.
A fact as little recognized as it is true: Boo-Berry is the very first blue ghost associated with the Star Wars franchise.
Try pulling that one out of your nerdlinger file the next time your friends invite you to Star Wars trivia night and you can't think of a decent excuse to stay home.
Note the mention of "spectacular Sunday comics ads featuring Star Wars toys." More on those below.
As the box mentions, there were four different posters offered as part of the promotion. Here you see the example featuring R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Above I made a crack about the posters being advertised as "two-sided." As this image shows, the reverse actually featured a pretty nice line-art illustration. It could be colored or enjoyed unmodified. So perhaps I was being a tad unfair. This particular image is pretty dynamic. I love that fabulously inaccurate rendering of the Death Star.
This poster features the famous piece of marketing art developed by the Hildebrandt brothers -- a pretty nice freebie!
Actually, I wonder how the Factors people felt about this image being given away on a free poster. Factors, of course, had the rights to market it as a commercial poster, and it was a big seller for them.
The reverse of the Hildebrandt poster boasts this nice and fairly film-accurate image of our heroes' escape from the Death Star.
Speaking of escaping the Death Star, this image is sure to be familiar to all collectors of vintage Kenner paraphernalia. It features the design used on the box of the "Escape from Death Star" board game, one of the earliest, and most ubiquitous, of Kenner's Star Wars products.
Remember, the folks at Kenner didn't have a ton of source images at their disposal. That fact, combined with the dimensions of the game's box, made this image a natural for use in this poster set.
The reverse of this poster featured a pretty cool montage-style design. Has Chewbacca ever looked more the playa? And why is R2-D2 getting all cozy with that Stormtrooper?
Hey, Dawn: You only get to sign it if you finish coloring it.
Dawn went on to call herself a hairdresser even though she dropped out of beauty school a mere two weeks into the program.
As I mentioned above, each poster unfolds to reveal a second portion devoted to advertisements and a rebate form.
One side of this second portion features photos of the large-size Star Wars figures, the Radio Controlled R2-D2, and the Death Star playset in addition to a host of other Kenner toys.
A photo of the Electronic Laser Battle Game adorns the opposite side. So do shots of the plush incarnations of R2-D2 and Chewbacca, though they're totally overshadowed by those fabled and irascible titans of plush, the Munch Mates.
You're familiar with Munch Mates, right?
Please don't tell me you've never heard of Munch Mates.
Munch Mates were a duo of plush varmints, named Snack the Cat and Chow Hound, that boasted an aesthetic right out of a Sid and Marty Krofft production.
Their killer app was a huge mouth, into which kids could stuff molded rubber food items. And then pull them back out.
Unfortunately, Kenner's foray into the lucrative world of bulimia-themed toys was relatively short-lived. The Munch Mates disappeared from store shelves faster than a fashion model returns from the Ponderosa bathroom and lines up for seconds at the buffet.
Above I mentioned an ad that ran in papers in support of the promotion. Here's one of those ads. This particular example appeared in papers in the Modesto, California area on November 19, 1978.
The star-field at the top of the ad and the use of the word "galaxy" leave no doubt as to which toy line ruled the Kenner roost during the late '70s.
Is it possible the Flying Finnegan Action Game inspired a level of happiness anywhere near that implied by the ad's imagery? Does a Munch Mate keep his fudgsicle down after swallowing it whole?
Lastly we have a large display used to advertise the promotion in grocery stores. It's one of those items at which you look and think "it could have been so much cooler." If only it used the Kenner logo. If only it included photos of Star Wars toys. If only I could still get that rebate on Munch Mates!