You are now entering Ad Space, a realm of commercials, brought before us so we might examine how they work, and discuss why we both love and hate them so. So it is written …
Sustenance for your sad, miserable adulthood.
I’m hardly the first Internet scribe to spend bytes on the subject of Mr. Delicious, that bewildering relic of the early 90’s, a cartoon spokesman for a nigh-forgotten chain of fast food restaurants, who seems less interested in shilling sandwiches than in being a cruel satire of 20th Century life. Nathan Rabin penned an excellent deep dive into the character’s twisted psyche.
Where I differ from most is I think the core concept behind Mr. Delicious is solid.
These ads came at a time when Rax was trying to carve out a niche as a fast food restaurant for grownups. Where other fast food joints provided free toys, play areas, and other gimmicks to entice young children, Rax emphasized its salad bars and carpeted floors, appealing to a mature clientele who didn’t want to put up with kiddie crap.
I don’t know if this was a smart direction to take the franchise (Rax declared bankruptcy not long afterwards, so signs point to no), but given that’s the direction they’re going, someone like Mr. Delicious could have made a good spokesman.
The commercial starts up, and a cartoon character comes on screen. But if you’re expecting a manic, colorful youngster like the then-popular Burger King Kids’ Club, you’ve got another thing coming. No, this toon is a calm, sober adult, one who talks candidly to the other adults in the audience, and is well aware of the irony of appearing in cartoon form to deliver this particular sales pitch. It’s a clever way to subvert expectations and tell people you’re not like all the other fast food places.
The problem is …
You know how children’s media is often made by adults who seem neither to understand nor respect their child audience? How they’ll churn out a barrage of what they think “the kids are into these days” that seems more like it’s making fun of the children watching it?
Mr. Delicious is like that, only for adults.
It’s like someone was given the task of creating a spokesman that adults could relate to, and they went, “Okay, what do adults like? Uhh … they like briefcases! We gotta have him always carry a briefcase. And complain about his groin surgery; adults will love that. Oh! And no adult could relate to him unless he hates his job.”
That last one is especially odd, since Mr. Delicious’s job is to promote Rax. Yet, in a commercial for Rax, Mr. Delicious says his money woes are because “the Rax executives aren’t paying him enough to compromise his integrity.”
So Mr. D doesn’t even like what he’s shilling. Promoting Rax is just a job for him, and if he didn’t need the meager paycheck that Rax doles out, he’d never sully his integrity by associating with it. That’s … that’s just wow.
As I said, the core concept behind Mr. Delicious is solid, but in trying to make him relatable to an adult audience, they made him the kind of adult that no adult would want to be. We might laugh along with Mr. Delicious, might even see a little of ourselves in him, but if eating at Rax means surrendering to the sad, worn-down version of adulthood he embodies? Shouldn’t be a surprise if we all flock to McDonald’s instead.
For Mr. Delicious to work, he’d need to be more of an aspirational figure. He’d need to reflect a sophisticated, self-confident vision of adulthood, to be the kind of adult we like to imagine ourselves as … not a mockery of the kind of adult we fear we’ve become.
Basically, make him a little less George Jetson, and a little more Dos Equis Guy.
And in case you think I’m being too harsh on old Mr. D, check out these radio ads featuring the character, where Mr. Delicious discusses his troubled marriage, the devastating fallout of his mid-life crisis, and the deep-seated anger issues his analyst is helping him repress: