November 7, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Kukuxumusu, Cartoon Cool

The company logo, which comes as a
sticker included with every purchase.
Since it's now November, the beginning of Christmas shopping season, and since I'm always asked about it by visitors and exchange students, I'm starting a new series of posts on Spanish products that make for a great gift, and that aren't the usual bull cheesy fare that one finds at all those tacky tourist stands.

For my first suggestion, I think the cat's out of the bag. Kukuxumusu (pronounced like "cuckoo-chew-moo-sue") is hardly a secret, and has become a must-buy for guiris passing through Spain, because the brand provides a hip, edgy take on not only Spanish culture, but increasingly global cultural trends. The name for the shop/brand comes from the Basque ("euskera") for "kiss of the flea" ("kuku xu musu"). The company began in 1989 in Pamplona, when a group of friends there came up with the idea of selling paraphernalia (especially T-shirts) with cartoonish spoofs of the typical July fiestas of San Fermín, playing with imagery of the (in)famous running of the bulls. In 1996 Kukuxumusu opened its first shop, and quickly spread to other major cities in Spain, even most small towns that are common tourist destinations. Today Kukuxumusu is both brand image and paraphernalia shop, its creators describing it as a "fábrica de dibujos" (factory of cartoons). More and more you can see its cartoons throughout Spain being incorporated into government public campaigns, local businesses, and cultural movements.

The company's classic theme: Fiestas de San Fermín.

A surfing twist on the San Fermín theme.

The company has branched out to
a broader Spanish tourism
Including Valencia's Fallas.
What makes Kukuxumusu a marketing success? It's a mixture of things. For one, the artists always draw anatomically correct animals, something which visiting Americans, accustomed to cartoon prudishness at home, can't seem to get enough of. The brand's popular male bull protagonist, "Mr. Testis," for example, is always drawn pelotas and all, just as featured female cows have utters. Kukuxumusu cartoons also often have an element of social or political commentary, taking a subject and depicting it in a way that pushes our comfort-zone. And then sometimes they are just adorable twists on classic visual iconography. In doing so, it caters to a growing adult population in love with cartoons and toys clearly targeted to mature audiences.

Unorthodox humor

Make love, not war.

Not so innocent humor.
Cute turned tough...
Today Kukuxumusu has moved way beyond T-shirts. You can purchase pencils, backpacks, keychains, children's clothing, postcards, and so forth. So skip the silly tourist stand and the very tired bull-shirt, and instead hunt for one of these stores. With Kukuxumusu, you can take home a more original, contemporary take on Spain.

I personally like their cartoon commentary on scientific concerns...


Tiana Kai said...

i love these cartoons. i bought a set of calligraphy pens in spain years ago with cute little bulls on them. they are awesome!

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi Tiana! Kukuxumusu has some pretty great merchandising. What's interesting is how they are starting to branch into other areas, such as public service imaging throughout Spain. (Like the escalator instruction signs shown in my "Queue culture" entry:

It won't be long before they eclipse the Osborne bull as classic Spanish iconography.

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