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    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    A cynical loss of innocence in breakfast cereal marketing

    There was a time when, as a kid spooned breakfast Alpha-Bits or Sugar Frosted Flakes, the only accompanying entertainment was to study the cereal box. One just sat at the table and slurped and … looked at the box.

    Recognizing that fact, the cereal company marketing folks soon invented specific and amusing caricatures that consumers could associate with a particular cereal.

    Tony the Tiger and “Grr-r-REAT!” Count Chocula and Franken Berry. The Lucky Charms leprechaun. That outer-space weirdo for Quisp. Sugar Bear, the smooth crooner of the Mose Allison-esque “Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp / It keeps me goin’ strong” theme. Wheaties, the “Breakfast of Champions,” with collectible boxes featuring photos of different iconic athletes of the day.

    Of course, Cap’n Crunch is probably the finest example of that strategy. I suspect many of us of a certain age — some of whom stopped eating cereal years ago — could STILL, on demand, draw Cap’n Crunch from memory with the realistic accuracy of J.M.W. Turner: The Cap’n’s rosy cheeks, bulging madman’s eyes, white handlebar mustache, epaulet-happy and gold-button-festooned Navy greatcoat, and the searingly blue, bicornic Napoleon-style hat with the yellow C designating either “Cap’n” or “Crunch.”

    Now, though, it’s the other way around. Breakfast Wizards are paid large sums of cash to invent new cereals in support of an already established celebrity!

    There are multiple varieties of Batman cereals, Sponge Bob Square Pants cereals, a Bart Simpson cereal, Avengers cereals, a Despicable Me cereal, a Scooby-Doo cereal, (race car driver) Richard Petty (!) cereal, Spider Man cereals, and on and on.

    Which means food ‘n’ flavor researchers and chefs at the big cereal companies — General Mills, Kellogg’s, Post, Quaker Oats — are assigned a newly-contracted celebrity endorser. Only then do they work feverishly to come up with a cereal that has a taste and texture — a FLAVOR PERSONALITY, if you will — reflecting the characteristics of the Famous Person about to have a cereal named after them.

    My sources in the breakfast food espionage tell me that a sampling of in-the-works celebrity cereals include Bitty Bitter Bieber Berries, Kanye’s Ego Crumbles, Steve Bannon’s Sugar-Spangled Dandruff Flakes, Special K(ardashian), Ja Morant’s Sure-as-Shootin’ Shredded Wheat, Elon’s Vanilla Muskeroos, and Joe Biden Cream of Extra-Bland Wheat.

    Each box will be tantalizing and spellbinding to behold all through the breakfast hour!

    And yet, General Mills, the company that makes my favorite cereal, Cinnamon Oat Cluster Cheerios, does not feel the need to have either a celebrity endorser or a cute Cinnamon Oat Cluster Creature on their boxes. (And I’ve modestly volunteered.)

    Instead, the packaging shows … well, a bowl of Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch. That’s it.

    The argument could be made that Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch is so good — and I’M certainly addicted — that they don’t need an iconic character for consumers to identify with and ponder whilst eating.

    In the meantime, what am I supposed to look at while I’m eating?

    I suppose I should just be glad that, at my advanced age, I still love breakfast cereal. Yes, I miss Jets, a much-enjoyed, long-gone fave cereal from childhood, but I remain grateful for my relationship with Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch. In fact, I think I’ll have a bowl!

    What about you? Do you still have a go-to cereal? And which extinct brand do you miss from your own youth? Email me at r.koster@theday.com and we’ll share some of you answers in the next “A Question of Taste” column.

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