Relive your middle school fundraiser assembly!
January 24, 2019 8:01 PM   Subscribe

A one-inch craft pom-pom, a pair of googly eyes, a few bits of wire and foam. Sure, they're cheap and they may not sound that impressive, but as Atlas Obscura reports, the tiny promotional items known as Weepuls were a bit of a thing in the '70s and '80s. Of course, if you were ever unfortunate enough to be pressured into selling gift wrap or magazine subscriptions as a school fundraiser in the US, there's a good chance you're familiar with Weepuls already. The Outline calls Weepuls a sales cult: "It is a symbol of inequality, which has gotten so desperate that schools are mobilizing children to sell merchandise to pay for their own education." Weepuls' creator wrote a bit about their origin in an industry blog. If you're just here for a hit of nostalgia, you can take a peek at the Weepul catalog (PDF). Better yet, YouTuber emmymade can help you make your own.
posted by duffell (32 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I haven’t seen one of those little bastards since the ‘80s. I didn’t know they were promotional. Our school worked the World’s Finest Chocolate circuit. That’s about as edible.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:12 PM on January 24, 2019

I suddenly and quite vividly recall making a bunch of these in seventh grade for a school bazaar, a memory that has seemingly lain untouched for a few decades. I suddenly want one of these things the way Proust wants a madeleine.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:12 PM on January 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

I had a weirdy memory about these at xmas time while standing in front of pom poms and googly eyes at JoAnn or Michaels. I could not remember what they were called and forgot to look it up.

I remember these being everywhere for a stretch of time when I was little but didn't remember them as an advertising medium until reading that they were used for advertising just now...I then 150% remembered a local Ford dealership using them in that way. The ones I remembered were hippyish Jesus-y things. More if you're happy and you know it than actual biblical quotes...would not be surprised at all if those came from my grandma's baptist church.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:22 PM on January 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I transferred schools in the fifth grade and I remember the weepul magazine sales pitch being the first assembly I attended at the new school. I was already so confused because the sales guy was so enthusiastic about weepuls I assumed they were another thing everybody else was into that I missed because we didn't have cable and only listened to the radio when my parents tuned into NPR. So I kept asking kids "what are weepuls from?" and nobody knew what I meant because it turns out weepuls aren't "from" anything.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:39 PM on January 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Holy heck, that was a flashback! I don't even recall what we were selling in middle school, but I do remember those things.
posted by tavella at 8:51 PM on January 24, 2019

huh, we called those fuzzies.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:04 PM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you LLC! I was trying to recall the name I knew them by.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:21 PM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

These would get handed out as prizes for best test grade or whatever when I was a kid. Had no idea people sold them? Always ranked them with gold stars and participation trophies. I did see them used to advertise stuff now and then also.
posted by emjaybee at 9:21 PM on January 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Jesus, these fucking things. I flogged a lot of goddam magazine subscriptions in middle school for these one year, even as I sensed on some level how tremendous a sucker play it was.
posted by cortex at 9:51 PM on January 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

I remember these! Mostly as promo items or getting them as a prize -- they always just seemed to be...around. Like they had spontaneously generated. (Neither of my parents had jobs in the eighties that would have particularly generated promo items, but I feel like maybe I got one from my babysitter?) I distinctly remember the pebbly texture of the little feet, and the satiny ribbon*.

*I'm pretty sure I had pica as a child, and definitely at least chewed on a lot. I have a lot of intense mouthfeel sense memories around childhood stuff, which is simultaneously cool and mildly worrisome.

also omg emmy has a craft channel whaaaaat
posted by kalimac at 9:59 PM on January 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh my gods.

I didn't know what they were called and clicked through wondering how I missed a THING that coincided with my entire childhood (I was born in 1973) but oh. THESE THINGS.
posted by desuetude at 10:32 PM on January 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

My grandparents had one of these that was a promo for some marine outfitters in the Florida Keys. Sat on their dashboard for years, I was just thinking about it the other day.

I also remember that A&W restaurants had them for a while but I think they called them "Wuppets" or something like that.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:54 PM on January 24, 2019

if you were ever unfortunate enough to be pressured into selling gift wrap or magazine subscriptions as a school fundraiser in the US

I still really can't believe that was a thing. It felt stressful and manipulative at the time and frankly worse from a few decades later. I doubt our particular school even needed the funds, and it wasn't presented to us as a public-spirited fundraiser; it was this great opportunity to get rich and earn a super sleek handheld plastic fan, or (dream, kid, dream) a Walkman. I forget how many hundreds of subscriptions it would have taken to get one of those, but I remember how much I wanted the stupid prizes, and how uncomfortable I felt about what I'd need to do to get them.

But the Weepuls are cute.
posted by trig at 11:09 PM on January 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ffffff I'd forgotten these ubiquitous... things. They were just sort of... around. Everywhere. Often with ribbons attached. I never really asked where they were from or why they existed. Never had to sell magazines to earn them though, the only thing I remember failing to sell was "World's Finest" chocolate. Which was not.
posted by egypturnash at 11:11 PM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can confirm they're still used as promotional fluff - every so often the office fills with a new pompom/googly animal from academic publisher Emerald. I think the last one was a wonky penguin, but there have also been sheep and caterpillars.

It never occurred to me to wonder if the things had a name.
posted by gesso at 11:48 PM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

As the article says, those are called wuppies in the Netherlands and still very much a thing, with our largest supermarket chain using them a lot in special promotions, usually involving football.

They were a collecting craze back in the eighties when I was a child, but never as much as the Smurfs plastic figurines were you could get from your friendly petrol station.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:02 AM on January 25, 2019

I loooooved these as a kid. Had a big box of them, then started making my own by buying pompoms and googly eyes and carefully cutting out feet and colouring them in. Even sold some at a school craft fair.

Schools getting kids to sell stuff was never a thing where I live though, so I have no negative associations.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:01 AM on January 25, 2019

I attended a small Catholic school in the '90s that had moderately low tuition and very little money (our social studies textbooks were from the '60s), and we leaned hard into fundraisers: Easter candy, World's "Finest" Chocolate, gift wrap... and magazine subscriptions, which is where the Weepuls came in. They weren't merely an object unto themselves (though we were definitely suckered into Weepul mania). Our school multiplied their power by making Weepuls a gateway to candy.

Sold one subscription? You got a promotional pin or something. But for every FOUR you sold, you got a Weepul, and for every TEN you sold, you got some kind of extra-cool Weepul. I seem to remember subscriptions to "Catholic Digest" were rewarded with an instant Weepul. Then, every day, someone would come by our classroom, and we'd display our pins and Weepuls. Each item would garner one Now & Later per day. The "cool" Weepuls would earn you some kind of "premium" candy prize.

We went crazy for those fucking things. I wonder if anyone ever tried to game the system.
posted by duffell at 3:08 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow that takes me right back to junior high. The level that the magazine guy got the Weepul Mania up to in a week or so was crazy. The big hook I remember was that there were special Weepuls that were only available on a certain day and time and only if you met some goal. So everybody knew that the kid with the rainbow, top hat, monocle one must have sold 12 subs to Seventeen AND was lucky enough to be there when they made the "IT'S TIME!" announcement for Super Bonus Weepul Time. If I learned it was all a cold war government program to figure out the takeover of 12 year old kids' minds worldwide I would not be surprised.

I just didn't care and wondered why I should. I remember the teachers being really frustrated with my lack of Weepul desire. Then the band director told me we wouldn't have new music for band the next year if we didn't sell magazines and I ran out and sold a bunch. Why wouldn't they lead with that? As a result I made money selling my Weepuls for cash to kids who really needed a fix.

I can still remember that magazine guy like it was yesterday. He was almost exactly Paul Scheer on Parks and Rec as the KABOOM! playground guy.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 7:07 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

We had those stuck on everything when I was in band in 1979/80. I never heard them called weepuls though, just fuzzies. We called them "warm fuzzies." I also don't remember selling them, but I guess they didn't just spontaneously generate. Maybe the people selling chupa chups also sold fuzzies.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:51 AM on January 25, 2019

I was just thinking about these things the other day. Maybe it's time for a comeback. I just remember whenever I'd go to work with my dad, everyone would have different ones on their desks (and later, on their monitors). I distinctly remember them having a peel-off backing so you could stick their feet down to things -- am I remembering that right?
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:58 AM on January 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I clicked thru and saw the pictures and immediately my stomach clenched, my skin went pale, and the blood froze in my veins. I had to sell stuff for school as a kid and the prize - for conforming, for fighting against every instinct I had, for playing the part of a dutiful little Reaganite money-obsessed 80's kid - the great reward at the end was one of these stupid fucking fuzzball things with cheap googly eyes that never seemed to be both looking in the same direction.

Ten weepuls is equal to a pencil! Twenty-five and you get a fancy eraser! How many weepuls would I have needed to get treated like anything other than a stubborn failure because I didn't want to sell stuff that I thought was crap, to people who didn't want or need it, so that I could get a stupid fucking fuzzball to show off how well I was able to bamboozle people out of their money? How many weepuls would I have needed to avoid my parents exasperation and "Don't you want to be a winner? Don't you want to be a leader?" My dad, who I loved with all my heart, staring at me through his thick plastic-framed 80s glasses, just not understanding why a kid wouldn't want to join our great society of salespeople and suckers. Was his kid a sucker???

Holy crow, this brought up a lot of bad memories. There was nothing good about this system for me.
posted by Gray Duck at 7:59 AM on January 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

I can confirm that we were rewarded with weepuls for selling magazine subscriptions as recently as 1999 or 2000, in rural Canada. Bleak!
posted by ITheCosmos at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I definitely remember these little guys, but never had to sell them for school fundraisers or even knew they had a name. My association with them is more seeing them stuck to people's big computer monitors. And they frequently had a ribbon with some saying or business promotion on it. But they never were a thing in my school, they were just a piece of cultural ephemera that you'd see around occasionally.
posted by PussKillian at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2019

Holy crow, this brought up a lot of bad memories. There was nothing good about this system for me.

I still remember how bad I felt when I tasted one of the chocolates that my grandmother kindly ordered from me.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:25 AM on January 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Post flagged as Gen-X bait.

Also, I remember these being heavily associated with the Red Ribbon Drug Free racket. At least in So Cal.
posted by ikahime at 8:55 AM on January 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Huh. I've never seen these. Perhaps I was just a few years too young, or grew up in the wrong part of town for it. Four hundred million sales is a lot for a thing I've never encountered. I'm assuming 80% of those sales are parents buying boxes of them and throwing them away in order to spare their children frustration.

Wrapping paper happened a few times. World's Finest Chocolate, though, is the most immediate example. The amount of lunch money I donated to my own school bands because eating chocolate bars was far less irritating than begging strangers to buy them makes me sorry I didn't have the fortitude to simply refuse to participate. (It also makes me hate our school administrators even more now than I did at the time.)
posted by eotvos at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2019

Can confirm that these were in full force in at least one Canadian middle school in the late 1990s, and that I also had a visceral reaction to suddenly being confronted with them once more. I don't think I ever managed to sell more than 4-6 subscriptions, because neither I nor my parents was comfortable with selling beyond, well, me and my parents. (It's a wonder that I once thought I might go into marketing.) They also popped up in the weirdest places, like a Quebec city bakery where the proprietor was clearly charmed by kindergarten-aged me's ability to order in French and gave me one.

In my family, we've always called them Weebles, and I'm kind of disappointed that I've misheard the name my whole life. I like "Weeble" better, and will continue to use that term. (Or, possibly, "Weevil.")

Mostly, our cats loved them. The poor shark Weeble lost his fin pretty quickly and decisively.
posted by ilana at 7:40 PM on January 25, 2019

Wow. Something that was entirely ubiquitous during all my growing up years, but that I have not given two seconds' thought to in decades, and had not even noticed are no longer around.
posted by Miko at 8:05 PM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, man, I totally forgot about these things!

I distinctly remember when I first heard about these. I said "what the hell is a weepul?" and my algebra teacher mildly castigated me for cursing.
posted by equalpants at 10:01 PM on January 25, 2019

I remember the school wanting me to sell stuff for fundraisers and by fourth grade being like" Naw man, fuck that." This was one area where my mom knew not to push me because I just would not move on it. However in the 80's it wasn't the insane, never ending fundraisers that it seems like kids do today.

There is not a week that goes by now where parents aren't trying to sell me stuff on facebook or in person for a school or troop or cheer or sportsball fundraiser. If these kids were selling handmade (by themselves) weebuls I would consider buying that. (One of the local elementary schools does an art show every year where they sell the kids' art, it is theeee best.) I can't imagine being a kid now.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:17 PM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Count me in with the kids who saw these things everywhere but had NPR-and-book-reading parents and thought there must have been some Really Cool Cartoon we were missing out on. The odd intersection of cheap classroom crafts and mass media marketing left me confused for decades.

I specifically remember staring at one that had been glued to the register at a store where my mother was cashing a cheque (well, OK, a check since this was in the States). I just kept trying to work out if it had a story at all, and what it could possibly be. It gave me no clues.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:44 AM on January 26, 2019

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