Within his cartoons Outcault criticizes an increasingly commercial world, even as he participates in it. The urban environment is littered with signs, some advertising local services, and others national products; some signs advertise Yellow Kid products. Furthermore, the signs proliferate over time; in the Kid's first appearances we see few signs. In "First Championship Game of the Hogan's Alley Baseball Team" (April 12, 1896), Outcault sends these messages: advertisements make you buy things that you don't need ("The New X-Ray Corset/The most uncomfortable corset in the World"), they are false in their exaggerations ("Every Wheel is the greatest wheel ever made"), and they offer false and ridiculous promises ("Use Smart's Liniment/for a Bruised or dislocated Breath"). In "The Bicycle Meet in Hogan's Alley" (June 21, 1896) we find Outcault advertising for his own product (in addition to other comical ads): "Watch fer de New Hogan's Alley Song 'De Yellow Kid in Pantz.'" In the clouds above "A Hot Political Convention in Hogan's Alley," readers see, "Have your name on the clouds/the Enterprise Advertising Sign Co." In the same cartoon we see a distant sign for "Gilmore & Leonard" (they also appear in "The Opening of the Hogan's Alley Roof Garden," July 26, 1896), one of the vaudeville acts that performed a Yellow Kid show, and also an ad to "free Cuba"—a cause celebre for the Journal that is repeated in several Yellow Kid cartoons, showing that even political causes can be whittled down to a catchy slogan. On the cover of the October 25, 1896 American Humorist, a character holds a sign that says "Everyting dese days is yaller kid/buy de Yellow Kid Glove, yellow kid cigar, yellow feller wheel." It's unclear whether Outcault here is criticizing theft of his character or his own products. Outcault even advertised for the next cartoon in "A Turkey Raffle in Which the Yellow Kid Exhibits Skills with the Dice" (November 22, 1896): "Say I won't do a ting wit dis rooster—if ye buy de Journal next Sunday yez can see de fight I'm goin te have wit him." We do see the result in the November 29 issue comic strip, "The Yellow Kid Indulges in a Cock Fight—A Waterloo." "Li Hung Chang Visits Hogan's Alley" (New York World, September 6, 1896), based on the visit of a Chinese diplomat, featured signs making Chang himself into a celebrity: "Ladies ask for the Li Hung Chang Corset/If your dealer says something else is just as good tell him he is a big liar." Outcault's cartoon plot may have succeeded better than he thought; the diplomat, combined with Hogan's Alley characters were featured in "Li Hung Chang's reception: a burlesque comedy in 1 act," in which the diplomat comes to America looking for a wife.
Outcault thus allowed the Yellow Kid a role as sympathetic everyman—relating to the continual assault of product placement on Americans. But primarily Outcault criticizes or ridicules advertisements' place in the urban environment—an odd position to take considering his own interest in making his characters into successful commercial commodities. Although posing as a sympathizer, ultimately he is a seller of his own product, which undercuts his critique of consumerism.