Pacers are the sweets of playground legend – whizzy little green and white striped chews that arrived in the 1970s, excited children’s taste buds and then disappeared again in the 1980s, leaving a generation bereft.
What not many people will know however, is that Pacers were originally plain white chews, called Opal Mints and were the spearminty cousins of Opal Fruits (I will not call them Starburst – they were and always will be Opal Fruits to me…). They didn’t really fire anybody’s imagination until a new marketing campaign renamed them at the beginning of the 80s and added the three green peppermint stripes that gave them a ‘two mint freshness’. Yep, that was considered pretty exotic back then.
Considering that the adverts for the new and improved Pacers were meant to be all about re-launching a product to make it sell this time round, they were frighteningly similar to the ones that the candidates on The Apprentice come up with; i.e. no creativity at all, patronising to their audience and featuring appalling scripts. In my particular favourite a gormless man is at the rink with his friends, and after lacing up his ice skates he reaches into his bag for a Pacer. He chews on it several times, and is amazed when his previously white polo neck is suddenly adorned with three green stripes (I’ll give him that one, you would be slightly surprised if that happened), accompanied by three dodgy notes played on what sounds like one of those Whistle Pop sweets. He gurns inanely into the camera, saying ‘Stripes!’ like he’s a toddler who’s just learnt a new word to impress his Mummy with. Along comes a female friend, coincidentally also wearing white (it would have ruined the whole premise if she’d had a green top on I guess), who accepts a Pacer from the grinning chump, and then finds herself just as verbally limited when her clothes are similarly affected.
I wasn’t quite as cynical when I was a child of course, and would stare hopefully at my t-shirt whenever I was allowed a packet of Pacers, in the hope that I would also develop stripes. (I didn’t, in case you were wondering, although if I had I know I would have come up with something more interesting to say about it than the ice skating buffoons.)
A second advert gave the impression that you could aspire to a better life if you ate Pacers; one particularly stand-out scene implied that you were even more likely to find a husband if you had stocked up on your two-mint freshness… Yes really, three lonely brides were pictured on a shelf (the visual imagery had obviously moved on a step from the last campaign) and the one who had had the foresight to bring a minty chew with her found herself being helped down by her prospective groom. Who needed internet dating in the 1980s eh?
Fact: the football team Celtic were briefly nicknamed The Pacers, due to the similarity of their kit to the much-missed sweet.
Pacers were special. You may say that I am viewing them through green and white tinted glasses and perhaps I am, but whilst there is other confectionery out there nowadays that has similarities to them I don’t think that any one of these pretenders have ever really matched up to the sheer mintiness of the original.
Many a nostalgic conversation over a pub table has resulted in everybody agreeing that ‘they really should bring Pacers back,’ but so far these marvellous little mouth refreshers are still consigned to the past.
Mind you, people power brought back Wispas so I would like to put myself forward as leader for a new campaign. I shall arrange a flashmob event outside the Wrigley headquarters, where a mass of gurning people wearing white polo necks will all shout ‘Stripes’ until somebody promises to start making Pacers again. Who’s with me?
Perhaps we could also ask them to change ‘those sweets’ back to Opal Fruits at the same time.