Column: The Private Sector – Pride, Prejudice, and HFCS
There were few things that you looked forward to in any given elementary school day: recess, getting to see the cute sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Bull who was a good twenty years your senior, running home from the bus to catch cartoons in the afternoon, and… oh yeah, before it became un-cool to bring your own lunch to school — lunchtime…
I was among the fortunate who were blessed with a new lunchbox every year, and looking back – it was interesting the gimmicks and devices that were used to sell things to us to occupy those lunchboxes year after year.
I’m sure you already know where I’m going with this: Ecto-Cooler.
But bear with me while I build dramatic tension a bit… Gotta give the people what they pay for. Wait; do I get paid for this? Guys? Anyway…
I could wax nostalgic for pages and pages about all the food stuffs that were available for my school lunch as a kid (Dunkaroos, Fruit by the Foot), but from around 1981 to 1990ish, there was a war being fought on the grocery store shelves.
The war to be the sugar water “drink” of choice in kids’ lunchboxes.
Think about it, Hi-C, Kool-Aid, Squeez-It, Capri-Sun, I could go on and on with the options that were available for kids to implore their parents to buy for them. Each, of course, had some sort of a gimmick that set them apart from their competition in the hopes that maybe leading you to obesity or diabetes in pouch form would be more appealing than the other guys.
I remember, as a kid, the “juice” isle stretched as far as the eye could see, with all sorts of juice box, pouch, and bottle options to choose from. It only makes sense that the marketing folks would spend countless dollars to make you identify their brand above all others. (Now, juice boxes are relegated to an end cap or a small shelf next to the “real” juices… interesting, no?).
But while Squeez-It and Capri-Sun had unique packaging that was immediately identifiable, Kool-Aid and Hi-C stuck to the tried and true juice box format. So what could they do to get notice? Kool-Aid opted for awesome advertising with the oft Seth MacFarlane parodied Kool-Aid Man, who became more identifiable than any of the flavored drinks they sold. Plus Kool-Aid devised the genius idea of Kool-Aid points, which you could redeem packages of their juices for “Kool” (nyuck, nyuck) usually Kool-Aid Man themed gear.
Hi-C, on the other hand, had me sold the minute they developed a Ghostbusters themed beverage in Ecto-Cooler.
It’s a pretty genius idea, actually. When you think about it on the simplest level, the drink has absolutely nothing to do with the Ghostbusters property. The first thing that comes to mind when seeing the mucus-like ectoplasm in the Ghostbusters film and in the animated show isn’t “citrus tangerine goodness.” (Unless there’s something the fan community isn’t telling me?) The drink wasn’t even really the same green color as your favorite paranormal entity and mine. But it didn’t matter, the minute they slapped Slimer on the packaging and named the flavor “Ecto-Anything,” it was sold to me.
This is what Star Wars did to us… but I digress…
Having had parents with a strict “milk once a day” rule – Ecto-Cooler at lunch meant that I had to endure drinking low-fat milk for dinner every night, but I didn’t care. It was worth it. Ecto-Cooler made me feel cool. Like I was drinking an officially endorsed drink from the Ghostbusters. No matter what a dweeb I actually was in real life, I was a Ghostbuster at lunch. Which, okay, arguably still made me quite the dweeb. But endearingly so, right? Right?
I would beg and plead with my mom at the grocery store for Ecto-Cooler like a Mogwai wanting a snack after midnight. When Hi-C stated selling two liter cans of their beverages, the thought of cracking open one of those cans gives me more joy than tapping a keg of the finest brew as an adult today. Ecto-Cooler was the drink of choice when friends came to visit, just like scotch is for the suits in their executive offices. “Hey Brian, thanks for coming over, can I offer you an Ecto-Cooler? Boy, did you see Mrs. Bull today?”
It probably makes me beyond shallow, but Ecto-Cooler became associated with childhood, it became associated with a simpler and more enjoyable time. Much like a generation before me drank YooHoo, I drank Ecto-Cooler.
Of course, once the bane of our existence known as “nutrition” became a concern for families everywhere, the portion sizes of Ecto-Cooler slowly diminished. The boxes went from being monolith-sized, to matchbox-sized. Shortly after that, it ceased to be a juice and became a soft drink. It even suddenly became “An Excellent Source of Vitamin-C” (and pure sucrose by the tablespoon, probably) before eventually disappearing completely. It was missed, but life went on as juice boxes gave way eventually to Kool-Aid Koolers, which eventually gave way to it being cool to buy my lunch and drink school sanctioned milk, which gave way to a soda machine in high school, which eventually gave way to… I don’t know… girls.
There was a time around 2002 or 2003ish that Ecto-Cooler made a quiet and understated return, re-themed and renamed Screamin’ Tangerine. And I’m not ashamed to say that I, Troy Benjamin, at that time about to graduate from college, bought juice boxes by the case full. It was all a desperate attempt to take myself back to that moment in my childhood that Ecto-Cooler reminded me of.
Okay, well and when we discovered how good Ecto-Cooler and Vodka combined; it also became a means to inebriation.
But it’s strange to think that a marketing ploy during a highly competitive era where beverage companies were throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck became associated in such ways.
And it’s funny how much I want it back.
(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, GB Fans, Ghostbusters.net, and Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)
For more articles about Ecto-Cooler at Proton Charging, click here.