It’s a tough life being a breakfast cereal mascot. A starving bunny, reduced to desperate schemes to get cereal, is told over and over, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids.” Toucan Sam is forced to follow his nose everywhere in an endless search for orange, lemon and cherry-flavored Fruit Loops. A frog in a baseball cap gets hooked on Sugar Smacks. A spokesman for Cocoa Pebbles finds himself stuck in the Stone Age. And poor Tony the Tiger. No matter how soggy his Frosted Flakes get, he still has to say, “They’re Grrrreat!”
Some mascots are even monsters. I still remember the commercials where Count Chocula and Franken Berry argued constantly over whose cereal was better. The debate went something like this: The Count boasted that he had chocolate marshmallows. Franken Berry countered that his cereal contained strawberry marshmallows. Both, we were reassured, were part of a complete breakfast. It seemed like a total draw until a little blue ghost showed up in a bow tie and yellow hat and started peddling Boo Berries.
All of America was soon to learn what happens when you eat blue cereal. Something I know all too well from the Smurf Berry Crunch incident of 1982.
Nevertheless, the commercials have always been brilliant exercises in persuasion. In one song that I now cannot get out of my head, a group of children in a treehouse would praise the size of their favorite brand: “Honeycomb’s big … yeah, yeah, yeah!” And in case we weren’t convinced, they hit us with the second verse: “It’s not small . . . no, no, no!” It was a crushing argument. Rhetorically speaking, they had us trapped.
I still remember the thrill I got from watching the first commercial for C-3PO’s cereal. There he was—the golden robot himself, hawking what was billed as “A crunchy new Force at breakfast.” As the cereal box floated in space, turned over, and blasted off like a Star Destroyer, I thought I had died and gone to Alderaan. I was less excited, so I recall, in 1984, when Mr. T Cereal hit the shelves. Clearly, the Quaker Company had gone too far, and I pitied the fools.
One cereal icon has fallen on especially hard times. Did you hear that Captain Crunch was exposed in 2013 for not actually being a Captain? During 40 years, no one had noticed that the three stripes on the sleeve of his uniform mark him as only a lowly commander. It seemed that for decades, we had all been living a lie. Fortunately, when the news broke, people on the Internet rushed to the Captain’s defense. That’s just another triumph for the Internet.
But to make things worse, scholars at Cornell recently released a disturbing study that reveals what marketers of cereal have long been trying to do. The researchers—who insist that they are not “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”— have examined the eyes of characters on cereal boxes and found that they mostly tend to look down, at an average angle of ten degrees.
These researchers — who have denied being named “Snap, Crackle, and Pop”— also discovered that children tend to be rather short. Therefore, by some form of logic they call “deduction,” they’ve hypothesized that when children walk down the cereal aisle at Kroger, the characters on the boxes appear to be looking down at them.
Do you realize what this means? If these researchers are correct — and you can bet your Lucky Charms they are — then marketers of cereals may in fact be trying to target their products to children. Say it ain’t so, Mikey!
I had no idea this sort of thing was going on. But now that I think back on my childhood, I see all those beady eyes staring ten degrees down at me. In fact, it’s all coming together now. The Fiber One box was always on the top shelf, right at eye level with Grandpa. There is no telling how deep this conspiracy goes. If I find out that Mary Lou Retton was in on this when she fronted for Wheaties, I may not have the will to go on. All the puffs have been taken out of my sails. Breakfast will never be complete again.