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Inappropriate Ads Millennial Kids and Tweens Grew Up With

Born in 1986, this '80s baby and '90s kid remembers the colorful and naughty side of millennial youth.

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Joe Camel And The Other Cigarette Ads

The 1990s is remembered for better or for worse as being a more edgy time period than it's already raunchy and materialistic 80s predecessor. But while the 80s was already rife with inappropriate body images for the first wave of Millennial tots, the 90s took it to the extreme, pushing the boundaries so hard that not only were overtly conservative "parental coalitions" getting annoyed, but even more liberal households were contacting the FTC and the FCC about the images these 80s born 90s kids were seeing.

When the topic of controversial advertising pops up, many tend to think about "Old" Joe Camel, the smooth smoking mascot of Camel Cigarettes who had already started ruffling feathers in 1987. While he was initially spotted only in adult magazines, by 1990, Joe was part of a full-blown campaign to appeal to kids ages 17 and under.

Over time, Joe's eyes would be enlarged to Disney-like proportions. Joe and his camel friends were often seen in bright, colorful print ads on posters and in magazines with large blue and brown eyes, drawn in the same style as Bambi.

When Warner Brothers launched a full campaign to celebrate Bugs Bunny's 50th anniversary, ads featuring Joe Camel appeared in licensed "special edition" Bugs Bunny magazines.

Even worse? Select ABC affiliate stations across the country would pepper in cigarette ads from more than just Camel during weekly Saturday morning airings of the Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show, usually near the last cartoon short, just before "more grown-up" or teen shows would air.

Ironically, many of the cigarette ads would air alongside anti-drug, anti-smoking and anti-drinking PSA's, with the most humorous airings coming right after the anti-marijuana cartoon special All Stars To The Rescue.

As for Joe Camel, he even appeared on toys and children's accessories as part of a "redeem points" campaign while the company behind him openly lied on camera to the press about "not" targeting Millennial kids.

Joe Camel would be a childhood staple until 1997.

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When Cartoon Network "Borrowed" From Sci-Fi/SyFy Channel

Point of view. It's 1995. You're watching Cartoon Network.

Suddenly, for a split second, there's a cool anime girl with blonde pigtails in a helicopter, and creepy space alien beasts and robots are approaching Tokyo.

No, this isn't Sailor Moon, which was only hitting syndicated stations and bootlegged channels at that time and wouldn't see Cartoon Network for another two years.

What you just saw was a split-second of Robot Carnival, an anime anthology of short stories that was about to have two unbelievable airings as part of an experiment Cartoon Network was performing.

Back in 1995, the main two anime programs Cartoon Network regularly aired were reruns of the 1967 Speed Racer/Mach A Go Go anime, and Battle Of The Planets/G-Force, which were two separate re-edits of Gatchaman.

But realizing they had the potential to expand, Cartoon Network "borrowed" Robot Carnival, Vampire Hunter D and Twilight of the Cockroaches from rival network Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) and then the network aired the three titles from midnight to 6 a.m. Est. in two different blocks, Night of the Vampire Robots and Saturday Japanime.

While the timeslot was absolutely appropriate, and when coupled with Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, made for a sneak preview to what would become Adult Swim in the following decade, there was a kaiju sized problem.

The ads for this block aired during weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings across the then Turner owned networks.

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All three titles feature mature themes and gore, making them perfect for adults, but horrific for kids.

The experiment must have worked, because by 1997, Toonami was in full swing with titles such as Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing, but ads for this first anime block should have aired during primetime.

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Bud-Not-So-Wise-Err

1995 also saw the TBS debut of Cartoon Planet, an hour-long block of cartoons hosted by Space Ghost, Zorak and Brak, which blended new and recycled animation from the 1966 Space Ghost cartoon with newer skits, placing the trio of former enemies into silly situations. It spun-off a phenomenon of programming that complimented the late-night Space Ghost: Coast To Coast show, which was already into its second season, and would eventually end up on Cartoon Network. By the mid-2000s, The Brak Show would spin-off from it, and a music CD would also be available with songs from the show.

But during its initial run, the ads that ran between cartoons weren't always kid friendly. In fact, while it was on TBS, Budweiser would run ads at least once a week during either the Saturday morning broadcast or one of the prime-time airings.

Millennial kids likely remember a trio of frogs saying "Bud... Weis... Err." over and over in front of beer or in front of a bar. Cute and amusing to adults, but considered subliminal fare for kids.

On Weeks not airing Budweiser ads, The Marlboro Man could be seen hiding horses with friends, selling cigarettes before ads for WCW Magazine would blast into the broadcast.

And if the age-inappropriate ads weren't enough, Cartoon Planet itself could raise eyebrows, as the first year saw episodes that featured the uncensored Merrie Melodies short Malibu Beach Party, where a racist blackface caricature of Rochester is seen serving alcohol, peach bubble lips and all.

Select 1960s Hanna-Barbera shorts from Shazzan were once deemed "innocent fun" but now may be considered cultural appropriation, leading to a shorter, half-hour version of Cartoon Planet in 1998, where the cartoons were more carefully curated. More and more shorts were pulled from the show, and by the end of its run, only squeaky-clean ads would play during a now 24-minute version, only made up of Space Ghost skits.

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Girls Gone Wild

Before Adult Swim, the overnight block of Cartoon Network only featured weekend showings of Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, Toon Heads and Late Night Black And White, with an occasional and unannounced playing of the very adult short Monkey Love, which was about a Sailor falling in love with a topless monkey.

Ads for all but Monkey Love aired during all hours of Cartoon Network's otherwise kid friendly channel, despite these shows featuring more adult subjects, such as racism, sexuality and substance use.

Towards the start of this weekend broadcast, commercials aired for Girls Gone Wild, a series of adults-only VHS tapes (later DVDs) featuring young women and sometimes, underage girls, being given alcohol and camera time in exchange for stupid tricks and for going topless.

The commercials started to become more prevalent as the 90s slid into the 2000s, with some creeping up during the last ten minutes of Justice League: Unlimited and all throughout the Toonami: Midnight Run, which aired later, but had an all-ages mix of viewers.

As Adult Swim eventually took over the late-night hours, the ads for Girls Gone Wild started to limit broadcast to just Adult Swim, but for many watching at home, the damage was done.

In the years since, new laws and many court battles have not only squashed Girls Gone Wild's misogynistic depravity, but they've also done a somewhat fair job of limiting which ads play during children's broadcasts.

Watching any cartoon related block of television today before the late afternoon, it's hard to imagine just how much networks used to get away with.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Koriander Bullard

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