great zonkers

by Art Chantry:

this is an important package design in the history of american marketing. it basically sold buttery caramel glossy popcorn in a useless fancy-pants package and completely blew open the hipster munchies market. prior to this product hit the stores, there was NOTHING cool to munch on while you were stoned and watching tv. nothing crunchy except fritos and potoato chips – and we all know how utterly dull and adult THOSE things were.

—Zonkers also change dup their box design with frequent regularity. it was like very time you bought a box, it was a whole new package. it was almost like magazine issues. like buying MAD magazine for munchie stoners….—AC

to begin with, this stuff – SCREAMING YELLOW ZONKERS – is credited as the very first food product to come in a BLACK box. and boy, was it BLACK! it actually did ‘scream’ off the shelf in the local grocery store. it was a cool narrow shape (echoing the cracker jacks box) and was covered with fun stoner humor. i mean, just look at this box design. we still don’t have munchies this cool looking (and ‘rap snacks’ look stupid, folks).

the front of the box had the food inside issuing simple instructions: EAT!! (in a comic book style word balloon, of course. this WAS the late 60′s, after all). the back was covered with cool little cartoons demonstrating and explaining everything you need to know about the wonders of screaming yellow zonkers – nutritional, contests, gifts inside, whatever. you could stare at this stuff for hours.

all of it was total bullshit – absolute looney. it was all part of the joke. this package was a parody of the mainstream – all of it aimed at “inside joke” stoner humor. for instance, wikipedia cites one gag – opening instructions: “open the top, and turn the box upside down. if Zonkers fall out, this is the bottom. if they fall up, this is the top. if nothing happens, this box is empty.” dude, that’s so farrr out, man! pass that doobie…

the credits on the box design are vague. although the box cover uses pushipn studio’s/milton glaser’s “baby teeth” typeface for the logo/name, the illustrations on the back are pushpin-inspired work, but obviously NOT by seymour chwast (as credied in wiki). i’m not sure who did the cover illustrations in the wonderful style lost to the period, but it could be a number of people (my best guess from viewing this small image is john alcorn.) other famous illustrators like charles white III did poster illustrations for the giveaways inside the box (they also had the coolest little plastic alien figures as gifts). but, this was an culturally a west coast project, not an east coast, i’m sure. the jokes were all things the east coasters back then wouldn’t have understood.

i’ve been trying to find one of these original boxes for years. i spent so many hours reading and re-reading these things while zoning out on the couch back in the day. screaming yellow zonkers were cool before this crap was ever sold as cool. it inspired several generations of ‘counterculture’ marketing – the end result being this depressing ‘cool as a commodity’ world we live in now. nowadays, you can simply go to the mall and BUY coolness. back in the early days, you couldn’t do that. you had BE cool. but, eating zonkers was pretty cool. the stuff tasted terrible, but , man just holding that box and reading it and laughing at the weird jokes was hipness defined.

…”TB – AL” was meant was a “high” compliment. it was parody at it’s best. these boxes were there to poke fun at the whole concept of marketing.

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