June 18, 2007
Are Trix for Kids? Will Other Cereal Brands Follow the Kellogg's Lead?

As those of you who follow this site regularly know, I have done my own study of the past on branding in relation to children's series, which I posted as a series of blog entries back in March, called The Cereal Serial. Imagine my surprise, then, when Kellogg's announced last week that it would be ending its marketing to children if cereals do not meet certain nutritional guidelines.

In particular, Fruit Loops has gotten a lot of press as a cereal which contains enough sugar per serving that it will no longer be directed toward kids unless and new version of the cereal will be released. This comes in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against Kellogg's and Viacom by a few advocacy groups and a set of Massachusetts parents regarding the marketing of sugary foods to children. In connection, the group backed down on their lawsuit.

C3 alum Geoffrey Long directed me to Andrew Martin's New York Times story about the decision, which came as quite a surprise.

While Kellogg's was under fire from children's advocacy groups for marketing to minors, there are now quite a few in the blogosphere who are angered by Kellogg's bowing to pressure from the consumer rights group. The blog Moonbattery linked to my series in their being upset about the groups who "have apparently used the threat of legal action to coerce Kellogg into doing away with the old favorites."

The writer says to CBS' Hannah Storm, "Don't worry, Hannah, they'll be gone soon enough, along with the rest of our culture--and our liberties."

That cereal is at the center of fervent political debate may not be as surprising as one might think. As I wrote in the initial piece of my six-part series on cereal brands:

In short, moral reformers believed that the American diet needed to be changed. Problems from sexual aggression and masturbation to whiskey consumption were linked to a diet high in American meats, and the pork-heavy breakfast rituals of Americans was one of the targets. Enter Graham (whose legacy stays with us through the cracker which bears his name) and later Sister Ellen G. White with the church, whose call for a dietary reform led to the work of John Harvey Kellogg and C.W. Post, whose names persist as two of the most well known cereal companies (Kellogg's brother Will is actually the founder of Kellogg's).

The irony, though, is the moral reform that was once linked with making breakfast cereals a staple of the American diet are in some ways echoed in the current focus in removing certain cereals from kids. Of course, the sugary content of Fruit Loops and Cocoa Krispies does not compare to those original cereals being promoted at Battle Creek, but it is quite significant that cereal remains at the base of our debates about nutrition, morality, and ethics in American culture.

I wrote particularly about the Kellogg icons in the fourth part of my series, pointing out:

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.

According to Martin's story, "Under Kellogg's new guidelines, food advertised on television, radio, Web sites and in print that have an audience that is 50 percent or more children under the age of 12 will have to meet the new nutrition standards. Kellogg already had a policy of not aiming advertising at children younger than 6, so the new guidelines apply to children 6 through 11."

To return to the question posed in this post's title, though, what will this mean for cereal brands? Will General Mills and Post follow suit? We have yet to see, but cereal brands will likely remain at the center of our debates about marketing and nutrition for some time to come.

I'm curious as to whether these cartoon icons will remain in play for adults in any way? I know this might borderline on the Joe Camel line, but the nostalgia that older consumers might feel for these cartoon icons raises the question of what will happen to the likes of Toucan Sam.