March 19, 2007
The Cereal Serial, Part IV: Visual Icons--The Kellogg Characters

The following is the fourth in a four-part serial on the world of breakfast cereals. This concluding piece in the series looks at the Kellogg's icons themselves and how they appeal to children. The first part of this series focused on the history of marketing breakfast cereals and the trickster motif among breakfast cereal icons, based on the recent article by Thomas Green, while the second part focused on the actual presentation of Kellogg's products in the grocery store. The third part presented an analysis of the various Web sites associated with Kellogg's cereal brands, including packaging which directs users to the Web site.

Since the Kellogg's company seems to try, for the most part, to avoid over-gendering any of its products, an examination of the visual icons associated with the Kellogg's products is especially illuminating. The most well known and marketed Kellogg's icons--Snap, Crackle, and Pop of Rice Krispies, Tony the Tiger of Frosted Flakes, Sunny of Raisin Bran, Toucan Sam of Fruit Loops, Dig 'Em of Sugar Smacks, Cornelius, or Corny, the rooster of Corn Flakes, Cocoa the monkey of Cocoa Krispies, and CinnaMon and Bad Apple of Apple Jacks appear to share one common characteristic--they are all male. Therefore, it appears that the accepted non-gendering of products in Kellogg's is, by default, male.

This likely reflects the lack of new Kellogg's icons. Of the products listed, only CinnaMon and Bad Apple are more recent products, while, according to the corporate Web site, Snap, Crackle, and Pop were created in 1933, Tony the Tiger in 1952, Cornelius in 1958, Toucan Sam in 1963, Sunny in 1966, and Dig 'Em in 1972. In the Kellogg's tie-in products, the majority are still male characters--Chicken Little, Batman, Scooby Doo, and Nemo--although Lilo is female, and Kellogg's markets one particular fruit snack--Princess Jewels--very explicitly gendered, with various Disney heroines from throughout its animated history on the cover of the product.

It appears, then, by attempting to keep most products inter-gendered (as opposed to non-gendered), the company has relied on a default maleness that has existed throughout much of advertising history. The lack of new iconography in the Kellogg's products reflects this complete lack of female Kellogg's icons. Further, the attributes of some of the characters--Tony the Tiger's power and energy, the Good Versus Evil of CinnaMon against Bad Apple, the silliness of Chicken Little's jokes, the bravery of Dig 'Em to tell the truth, the desire to conquer the various games provided on the back of boxes and on the Web site, and the feeling of love involved in the family breakfast promoted by Corn Flakes--are all various forms of the "Ever-Cool" that Gene Del Vecchio says "touch(es) the boy's psyche." For more on Del Vecchio's research, see his book Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer's Guide to a Kid's Heart from back in 1997, available here.

It appears Kellogg's marketing strategies are successful. According to its annual consumer report, 2004 was the fourth year of growth for the company in net sales, profit, and cash flow, and the company continues to aggressively pour funds into what it calls "brand building." It appears that the company's idea of brand building, although never explicitly outlined, is to continue pushing harder and harder for health-related products for weight-conscious adults, continue providing cross-generational cereals marketed to the "whole family" for shared experience, and products marketed specifically at children as broadly as possible, attempting to "gender" as little as possible, while making parents aware of the nutritional value of the product. However, it appears that, for the time being, the company's idea of inter-gendered cereals relies back to the default male iconography that has existed in the company for decades.