There are generally three types of toy related marketing that catch my eye when I'm looking through old newspapers. The first and most common are straight up toy ads, then there's the announcements of store appearances by people in costumes (usually Darth Vader) and then there's my favorite-the contests and sweepstakes. These are usually raffle type affairs with fantastic grand prizes like trips to places and events of great significance to action figure archaeologists and Star Wars historians or just anyone who grew up in the 80s. Kids and their parents could win some of the most awesome prize packages if they just kept an eye out for these very rare and very cool contests. These next ads are for two of the greatest contests and sweepstakes I've ever seen in my searches of old newspapers-the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Sweepstakes and the Star Wars Comic Strip Contest.
The above ad for the Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars Sweepstakes ran in comics sections of Sunday newspapers on 18 November 1984. It served as both an ad for the toyline and an entry form for the drawing. The ad portion is just as campy as every other Secret Wars ad, with a rapping Doctor Doom and ironic Captain America bragging about having his own secrets while his shield clearly displays his unmasked face to Doom and the world.
But who cares because like the real Secret Wars, this was a contest! Just like in the comic the winners got whisked away to a strange alien land (Los Angeles) and were given all they desired but without the pain of having to slay their enemies for the Beyonder. There were 1,000 third place prizes, which was the entire 12 issue run of the Secret Wars comic. There were 100 second place Tower of Doom playset prizes and 25 first place prize winners got a collection of Secret Wars figures and vehicles. The incredible grand prize was a trip for a family of four to the Marvel Animation Studios in Los Angeles for a 6 days/5 nights all expenses paid stay including rental car, food, hotel and $500 spending money! This was the nice Marvel Studios building that Transformers story editor Bryce Malek YouTubed a couple months back, not the secondary one I visited during Botcon. And if all that weren't amazing enough, the winners also got to meet Spider-Man! If a genie showed up with a time machine and gave me a choice between winning the lottery tomorrow or winning this Secret Wars contest 25 years ago, I'd do like Doctor Doom and kick the genie's ass then take his time machine.
There are a couple great moments in human history it would have been incredible to observe in person-the sermon on the mound, the JFK assasination, the walk on the moon and the grand prize in this newspaper contest from 11 October 1979-the world premiere of The Empire Strikes Back. All you had to do to enter was write the newspaper and tell them you read the Star Wars comic strip. The runner up prizes were a mixed bag. Third prize was The Star Wars Question and Answer Book about Space which is probably the most uncollectable Star Wars thing ever but second place was "a special selection of Star Wars toys, games, craft kits and books worth $150" plus two tickets to see Empire Strikes Back at a local theater. Hopefully the second place prize wasn't 500 copies of The Star Wars Question and Answer Book about Space and the winner got a buttload of Boba Fett figures or something useful like that. The first place prize was an all expense paid weekend for two to the US premier of The Empire Strikes Back, the specific venue and date of which at the time of publication was unknown. Actually I've googled it and even with all this internet I can't figure out when or where Empire debuted in the US. I suppose it doesn't matter anyways unless you won or already lived in the city where the debut was, in which case the airplane ride wasn't necessary. The ad stated the first and second prizes were at the national level so I'm guessing this ran in papers across the country so theoretically you can check it out at your local library if you really like beating yourself up over not winning contests you never entered from 30 year old newspaper ads like I do.