The Best Product Packaging and Branding From My Childhood

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(I will be using the word pop in this article instead of soda. Deal with it. -Ed.)

This past month Pizza Hut announced that it would be going back to its classic red roof logo, and I for one could not be happier. In an early article on this website I talked about how comforting the design of a 1980s Pizza Hut was to me. Today I’d like to take a look at some other product design choices from my childhood that I miss and remember fondly. I’ve decided to tackle these by category, and since I’ve already brought up Pizza Hut, I might as well begin with Fast Food.

Fast Food

McDonald’s

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The first entry in this article is both my absolute favorite and the one product design that will 100% never reappear: Styrofoam packaging at McDonald’s. McDonald’s eliminated its Styrofoam clamshell packaging on November 1, 1990 (although it did not eliminate Styrofoam coffee cups in the US until 2017). To me, this is the platonic ideal of fast food packaging. Everything about it is perfect, from the different sandwiches getting a different color container to the repeated logos on the packaging. The McDLT could not have existed without the dual Styrofoam chambers, and I haven’t gotten excited for pancakes since the Big Breakfast dome was eliminated. To anybody over the age of 35, this is how pancakes were packaged. McDonald’s Styrofoam packaging was a glorious, beautiful horror, and I miss it more than any of my childhood friends.

Arby’s 

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I am putting aside for a moment my immense affection for this fast food franchise, because this entry is all about the hat. THE ENTIRE SIGN FOR THE FRANCHISE WAS IN THE SHAPE OF A COWBOY HAT. Why was the logo for a roast beef restaurant that was founded in Ohio a cowboy hat? Who the hell knows (probably the Internet, but anyway)? The real reason is because people noticed. When my family went to Elyria, Ohio, to go shopping, we’d sometime drive across to another set of stores north of Midway Mall. Of the businesses that were located over there, I remember two of them: G.D. Ritzy’s and Arby’s, and I remember both of them for the same reason, because they had the most distinctive looking signage. The old Arby’s logo is one of the best logos in fast food.

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G.D. Ritzy’s was pretty sweet, too.

Long John Silver’s

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I talked about Long John Silver’s in my article about meatless Fridays, mostly to goof on it, and while I still think that the primary attitude to take towards Long John Silver’s is one of ridicule, I absolutely believe that the store design and signage was one of the mos appealing of the early 1980s. I grew up in Ohio and apart from a trip to Dearborn, Michigan, a trip to Florida, and one to Washington, DC, I didn’t leave Ohio until college. I had no experience with New England fishing villages, so in my eyes this was the perfect representation of a seaside fish shack. By the standards of a 7 year old Ohio boy, it looked classy. Authentic or no, as interest in the chain waned the design got markedly worse. First, Long John Silver’s updated the signage, removing the old timey pirate aspects of it, and ultimately got rid of the entire building design, thereby eliminating the remaining reason that anybody would want to go there.

 

Snacks

Doritos

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Old Doritos bags are so popular that somebody once started a Tumblr devoted to spotting them in movies, and the reason is because they have an iconic look. In my opinion it’s all about the window. It’s a brilliant move on the part of Doritos to allow the purchaser to see the actual chips in the bag. The 1980s bags still employed the 1960s mod-ish lettering, which Doritos did away with when it went the extreme route in the 1990s (and have since brought back for the Taco and throwback varieties). If Doritos weren’t hip and stylish, then why did they get cutting edge celebrity Jay Leno to endorse them?

Cheetos

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This is a clean and classic design that you’re probably very familiar with because Cheetos has gone back to it with retro bags as of late. Like Doritos, with the 1980s Cheetos bags what you saw was literally what you got. I love mascots but Chester never did much for me and I was always a fan of this less busy design.

Pop

Diet Pepsi

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I agree, commercial. It does look great! We were a big pop drinking family. We were not, however, a big diet family, but my aunts and later my best friend’s family definitely were. Two things I absolutely loved about these cans: the horizontal lines, and the big ass NutraSweet logo they used to slap on the can. You kids, with your Stevias. NutraSweet was good enough for my generation, it should be good enough for yours! It’s not like I’m pushing Olestra on you.

Cherry Coke

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These are more recent entries than the rest of the ones in this article. In general, there was some bold stuff going on in pop can world in the 1990s, for better and worse. I wanted to highlight Cherry Coke specifically, for a couple of reasons. The first is that with the possible exception of vanilla, there is no better flavor to add the pop than cherry wins over vanilla as well because it works in non-cola pops just as well. The second is that the first of these two cans is flat out gorgeous design. There’s nothing else that needs to be said about it. The can on the right is a bit more questionable, but in my opinion it’s one of the best accomplished versions of working within this mid-90s framework for appealing to a Gen X aesthetic (see further Surge, Josta). It’s a design that I might not love but it resonates with me.

That’s going to be it for now. In the future I’ll tackle a variety of non-food items.

What were your favorite childhood product packaging designs? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

 

 

 

 

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