March 18, 2007
The Cereal Serial, Part II: In-Store Display

The following is the second in a four-part serial on the world of breakfast cereals. This is the presentation of analysis from an afternoon spent in the Stop & Shop next to my apartment a little over a year ago, back in Fall 2005. My class with Henry Jenkins on the media industries was looking particularly at products offered to young boys, and I was interested in how Kellogg's has survived with a collection of long-term brands aimed at this demographic. The first part of this series focuses on the history of marketing breakfast cereals and the trickster motif among breakfast cereal icons, based on the recent article by Thomas Green.

Kellogg's, founded in 1906 by W.K. Kellogg, has been a staple in marketing to all age groups through developing brand identification. The Kellogg's corporation is proud of their company's history of branding, and corporate rhetoric about the early years of struggle culminate in pride with Kellogg's rising above competitors by increasing advertising budgets and creating icons for their various cereal brands. The company owns various product lines, including the Keebler brand name and all of the products under that umbrella, Pop Tarts, as well as Eggo waffles and various products affiliated with the Eggo line, including syrups and other frozen breakfast foods. The company aggressively markets its products through its in-store packaging and display, its Web site, and its use of television and print advertising, primarily through brand iconography.

I began my study of Kellogg's by acting as a consumer at my local Stop and Shop grocery store here in Boston. The cereal aisle is divided into sections vertically by brand. Then, each section is divided horizontally by a layer of generally five shelves. The top shelf is reserved for cereals one would likely only seek out to buy, the cereals that market themselves completely on being "healthy": Product 19, Kellogg's Complete Wheat Bran Flakes, All-Bran, Fruit Harvest, and Cracklin' Oat Bran, among others. The second aisle features slightly more mainstream variations of the healthy strand of cereal, such as Special K and Smart Start, and also starts to get into the cross-generational cereal brands, marketed on appeal to the whole family, such as Rice Krispies, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Raisin Bran, and the pinnacle of Kellogg's brand, Corn Flakes.

The lower shelves are almost entirely dedicated to the children's branding, obviously because they are on their eye level. The brands marketed here are Cocoa Krispies, Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops, Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops, Lilo and Stitch, Scooby Doo Berry Bones, and Honey Smacks. While my examination was conducted at this particular Stop and Shop, I have worked in three other grocery store settings during my life and have found most cereal aisles in mainstream grocery stores to be constructed in this manner. While my understanding of consumer psychology is only intuitive, I think the organization method is fairly obvious about what products are marketed to who.

The marketing ploy for the adult cereals generally focus on the healthy food theme, with a lot of text on the back of most boxes about carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, calories, and sugar. There are generally no promotional tactics here, except diet challenges and something called the "two-week bran challenge." For products not as specifically coded as "healthy," promotional tie-ins generally included mailing off for a special line of DVDs promoted for Kellogg's, with titles that often reflect cross-generational viewing. Corn Flakes was actively promoting Peter Jackson's new King Kong film, with a "collector's" box cover featuring an artistic depiction of the famous scene of King Kong climbing the Empire State Building.

The children's products reflect a tie-in with Kellogg's major business partner, Disney. In addition to the Lilo and Stitch and Finding Nemo cereals, several of the boxes include marketing for toys marketing the upcoming Chicken Little film. There are also various Disney fruit snacks marketed by Kellogg's. There is a product tie-in with Scooby Doo through the Berry Bones cereal, as well as with Batman through fruit snacks.

Because cereals hope to reach the broadest audience possible within the children's population, Kellogg's appears to attempt to restrict the amount to which the products are gendered in the store. Very few products use the gender-specific blues and especially avoid the pinks. Tie-ins with Disney products also usually reflect films that are generated to appeal both to boys and girls, such as Chicken Little. Activities on the back of the cereal boxes include various activities, games, and narratives to appeal to a broad range of children. These include fairly lame Chicken Little Cluck! Cluck! Jokes (Cluck! Cluck! Who's there? Chick. Chick who? Chick out the bananas in my cereal.), word finds, creative puzzles, maps and mazes, a chance to order a Step Counter Get Fit Kit, "make a tambourine shaker," and--on the back of Sugar Smacks--a comic book featuring the Dig Em! character that ends with an explicit moral--"The lesson here is always take responsibility for your actions, it's the best thing to do" (sic).

These various activities and games for children try carefully not to over-gender the cereal products, although some products are a little more gendered than others. For instance, the "1/3 Less Sugar Frosted Flakes" product features the chance to send off for various sports posters in an advertisement that featured both known female athletes as well as Tony Hawk, probably an attempt to provide sports "hero" products for both genders. This line coincides with the "Road to Torino" push that Kellogg's is giving toward the 2006 Summer Olympics. I will conclude this short report with a look at the particular Kellogg's icons and what they indicate about gender roles in Kellogg's products, but what these athletic tie-ins do in particular is attempt to appeal to parents, just as with the step counter from Tony the Tiger, that the company is concerned for the health of its young consumers.