It Came From the Dollar Store! Premiere Edition

With Halloween just passed, it seemed appropriate to bring something truly scary to the JediCole Universe.   Welcome then to the long awaited (or at the very least, long promised) first installment of a new monthly feature It Came From the Dollar Store

For the last eight years Mrs. JediCole and I have hosted an annual Dollar Store Christmas party and as a result have discovered a wealth of oddball products that someone felt compelled to produce.  Perhaps it was solely because they could still hit that $1.00 retail price point or the producers and manufacturers just have no clue how bizarre their products would seem to the average person.  Regardless of the directives behind these curious objects and foodstuffs, they are certainly worth exploring and always good for a few laughs.

And so it is that once a month I will blow $5.00 (plus tax) on a sampling of curiosities culled from actual dollar stores in my general area.  I simply won’t allow myself a larger budget on things I do not plan to keep.  However, in some cases the products showcased will be actual gifts that others purchased for Dollar Store Christmas.  Perhaps you have seen these products as well, perhaps not.  None the less they are carefully selected to raise eyebrows, invoke laugher, and simply beg the question “why?” 

First Responding in Style
Army men in olive drab have long been the top stationary pose boys toy produced on the cheap.  However, bags of little plastic soldiers have always shared peg space with cowboys and Indians, dinosaurs, and even police or firemen.  For those on a tight budget the marketers of dollar store toy aisle seem ever able to field sets of such figurines to fuel young imaginations. 

You have to love the grammar on these things!
In this case we have a set of firefighters who stand at the ready to battle back the flames and come to the rescue of any hapless children or pets who have become trapped by falling timbers amidst an inferno that was once a happy home.  If that plays overly dark, then fear not.  Once safely in the clear air it seems these brave firemen have a pair of sweet rides in which they can take those they have rescued for a refreshing high-speed jaunt around the neighborhood.  After all, nothing so soothes the blow of watching everything you own go up in smoke like a ride in a kick-ass sports car likely equipped to legally run red lights! 

Okay buddy, where's the fire?
No longer content with the blocky monstrosities of old to convey them to the scene of a blaze, these firemen race to the rescue in stylish roadsters that make up for a lack of utility with super-charged engines that are the envy of other vehicles in their class.  Five alarm fire on the other end of town?  When you can go zero to sixty in less than two seconds it is of little concern.  The long wait for the fire trucks and ambulances to arrive is a bit awkward, but at least the first first-responders can show off where your tax dollars have gone by popping the hood to show off that sweet, sweet engine that purrs like a kitten! 

Who says a dollar doesn't buy much these days?
Also included are a pair of traffic cones and a barrier gate to prevent any fire watching gawkers from parking too close to these kings of the road while the ladder company is busy dousing the flames nearby.

Taste the Tiger
Off brand, oddball, and just plain goofy candies are one of the staples of dollar stores.  So it was no surprise that the only place Mallow Pals could seem to find a market was in such an environment.  Sharing the shelves and pegs with hoarhound hard candies and the inexplicably still available on the open market Necco Wafers I discovered this particular confectionary trainwreck. 

When contemplating how to market a drab and hideously textured species of marshmallow fluff as a confection it seems inevitalbe that some kind of licensed brand would be the best approach.  After all, chalky sticks of so-called candy packaged with brightly colored images of Spider-Man or Wolverine at least give some initial appeal before the disappointment provided by the contents.  Perhaps finding Marvel Comics characters out of their price range, the makers of Mallow Pals went with the less expensive but equally high profile Animal Planet franchise.  After all, the two things kids love most are candy and animals.  Just ask Speed Racer's brother, he hung out with one and consumed copious quantities of the other.

And lions taste like watermelon!
So with a recognizable brand in place you need only secure some images of popular if endangered mammals, slap their photo on mylar foil, and custom cut a Capri Sun-like recepticle in the shape of said creature with a water bottle spout at the top and you have the ideal vehicle for sales of your fruit flavored sludge.  That is assuming two things.  One, that mom and dad will fork over a Washington for a tiny little 35 gram pouch of marshmallow that tastes like sour apple (if sour apple tasted more like something that almost tastes a bit like the essence of marshmallow whipped up with a quarter of a melted Jolly Rancher and a hint of some indistinquishable funk), and two that anyone can get past the idea of slurping a green-white paste out of the head of a Bengal tiger!  Needless to say I hurdled both of these obstacles in the interest of this feature, but from the taste and texture I would wager that most of the production run of Mallow Pals now reside in various landfills around the nation along with a tiny percentage of the containers from which at least a portion of the sqeezable marshmallow was extracted.  

Note: Sour Green Apple was not the sole flavor of Mallow Pals available at the time of purchase, it seemed the flavor least suited to complement the childhood memory-invoking flavor of marshmallows.  Even the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man is offended by this would be snack treat!

The Down Side of Shelf Presence
Some names become so completely synonymous with their products that they enter the vernacular and often even the dictionary.  Classic examples of this are Kleenex, Coke, Xerox, and Band-Aid.  Then there are the products that were not fielded by major corporations that spent months and thousands to millions, employ marketing teams, and arrange consumer focus groups all to come up with a catchy name that could possibly become a part of Americana.  When your product is developed for the burgeoning dollar store market it is more likely that you just ask everyone from the production line to the mail room to submit a name suggestion and go with the first one you pull out of a hat.

16% zinc oxide ointment presented in grand style!

This had to be the case with Baby’s Butt Aid, a diaper rash cream with the most awkward and off-putting moniker in the history of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.  If there was an annual prize handed out for consumer product names, this one would easily have won in the “Most Blatant Name” category.  What it lacks in brand name sophistication, like Desetin, it more than makes up for in the painfully obvious depiction of the purpose of the tube of cream housed within the package.  And if the name alone were not enough to convey its purpose, the brazen gluteus maximus motif of the letter B in Butt-Aid just adds that extra punch!

Pictograms for the illeterate parent.
This particular item was one of the gifts from the eighth annual Dollar Store Christmas and, if memory serves, garnered the guest who purchased it the coveted Dawg Award for “Tackiest Gift”.  While its humorous name made it an ideal choice for this feature article, the undeniable similarity between the baby face on the logo and Think Geek’s monkey face logo added an additional layer of appeal.

A Ninja For the Blind 
For the unindoctrinated, stealth is the watchword of practitoners of the ancient and secretive art of Ninjitsu.  When hearing the word Ninja, most immediately imagine a silent warrior clad entirely in black, plying his deadly trade under cover of conceling shadows.  But in the case of this Action Figure brand set of...action figures, the term takes on an entirely different meaning.  To this toy's manufacturer Ninja was more invocative of Rio de Janero during Carnival than warlike fuedal Japan.

No!  You can't see us!  We're Ninjas!
 Un-stealthily clad in flaming red and screaming yellow, this pair of ineffectual assassins could never hope to find a shadow deep and dark enough to offer the slightest concielment.  Dressed as they are their every movement is broadcast to any living creature that has a pair of eyes, working or not!  The festive colors arrive on the scene a split second before the ninja themselves and their decision to carry the color scheme through to their katana simply adds to this crime against subterfuge.  The martial art of Ninjitsu is difficult enough to pursue without costuming that attracts flocks of hummingbirds and suggests a Hong Kong action flick directed by Joel Shumacher!  In garb this brightly hued this duo shares the distinction of the Luxor and the Great Wall of China as man made objects that can be seen from orbit!

I Want What She's Having!
Consider the humble wire head massager.  It is such a simple thing with its exploded whisk-like appearance and inexpensive production costs.  It is little wonder that such a devise is an ubiquitous stock item for dollar stores nationwide.  It is an impulse buy free of buyer's remorse given its miniscule price tag.  If it provides no appreciable stress reduction or scalp health improvement you can always chock it up to being akin to a non-winning lottery scratch-off and move forward with your life.
New SyFy Original Movie: "Robopus"!
So when it comes to increasing the appeal of such an object, every concievable marketing tactic must be considererd.  Considered and then abandoned for the only sure-fire method in existance.  The one promotional tool that has been employed by every product from candy bars to sports cars - sex appeal!  But how does one inject sex appeal into something that looks like it belongs in a kitchen utensil drawer?  Much as nature found a way in Jurassic Park, sex appeal found a way in the packaging of this particular specimen known simply as "Head Massager".

My head is up here, mister!
 In order to bring sex appeal to the presentation the manufacturers chose to give consumers something akin to half of a Cialis commercial (the sexier half).  Or perhaps this image of a sultry bather was meant to bring to mind "Calgon! Take me away!"  Regardless there is something alluring about a woman lounging in a bathtub with a look of post orgasmic satisfaction draped across her countenance.  If this particular device can deliver that level of ecstacy then, in the words of a Robocop television personality, "I'll buy that for a dollar!"  The presence of the mind-altering-spore-producing plants from This Side of Paradise motif in the background defies any logical explanation.

When you contemplate that someone developed, produced, packaged, and shipped for the consumption of the general public some of the items that grace the shelves and pegs at your local dollar store you are left wondering what compelled anyone to go to that much trouble to hit such a low-ball price point!  While I would never deign to make an attempt to understand such business logic, I will drop about $5.00 a month on taking home a few choice items to share with visitors to my website.  Check in late in November to see what other horrors half a sawbuck can obtain!