Flashback Friday: Chester Cheetah

Just as in horror movies, there are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive an advertising campaign. Sex, of course, sells almost anything. Unless you’re marketing to children. Then you should probably find another route. That’s where animal mascots come in. Mascots like today’s furry, fluffy Flashback Friday special guest: Chester Cheetah.

I’m a sucker for a cute animal mascot. I’ve admittedly been charmed by the likes of the Snuggle Bear, Spuds Mackenzie (which included an incident at school in which I was told I either had to turn my Spuds T-shirt inside out or risk being sent home on suspension; I guess Baptists aren’t Bud Light fans), the Coca-Cola polar bears, the Taco Bell chihuahua, the Cadbury Egg Easter bunny, the Puma puma…it’s slightly embarrassing how easily I can be manipulated by a cute advertising mascot.

But Chester Cheetah was sort of the icing on the cake for me. A big, finger-dying, fake cheese, fatty, fried cake. I loved those strange little color-not-found-in-nature orange doodles of puffy cheese crunch. They were always my favorite part of the Frito-Lay variety snack packs that my parents would buy for me for my school lunches. I haven’t had Cheetos in years, but I still salivate like a Pavlovian princess whenever I see a bag.

Adding Chester as the mascot to this already beloved snack food? Well, I can’t say that it was a stroke of genius in my case. I was already driving my parents crazy for bags of Cheetos. Chester didn’t really increase that pestering. However, I do remember drawing Chester on my school books and lusting after Chester-approved merchandise like school supplies, T-shirts, posters. I do believe there was also a Saturday morning cartoon and a couple of video games. I didn’t experience either, but I loved those silly commercials. They were always the same, apparently running from the same playbook used by Wile E. Coyote and the Trix rabbit: Chester sees Cheetos, wants Cheetos, tries to get Cheetos, fails. He then delivers catch phrase accompanied by goofy sound effect. Don’t believe me? Watch:

In addition to “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Cheesy” and “The Cheese That Goes Crunch,” I also remember Chester using the line “Dangerously Cheesy.” Probably not a good catch phrase for a food snack that would soon come under fire for turning American children into unhealthy little pork balls.

I don’t think that Chester Cheetah has ever officially been retired by Cheetos. He just stopped appearing in television commercials for a while, but he was still around in print advertising and packaging. However, back in 2008, Cheetos decided to revamp Chester for the television market. This time, though, he wouldn’t be a whimsical children’s mascot.

These commercials instead targeted the original children of the Chester Cheetah generation: my generation. Chester changed from a cartoon into a puppet and apparently became a fake-cheese-induced delusion that encouraged Gen-Xers to wreak orange-fingered havoc on those they felt had somehow maligned them. The commercials encouraged us to join the “Orange Underground.” I never liked these commercials. They were extraordinarily creepy and lacked any of the kitschy charm that Chester used to possess. Not even the future Guild Queen herself, Felicia Day, could save this campaign for me:

Yeah, no thank you. Oh, and stay the hell away from my laundry with your Oompa Loompa fingers.