breakfast cereal


Re:Unfrosted - the real brand battle for breakfast

With Unfrosted marking Jerry Seinfeld's feature directorial debut, we look at the real breakfast wars

By jeremy lee

Jerry Seinfeld delivered a famous speech/rant about advertising in 2014, when he was handed a Clio Award. He told the audience of ad execs that “I love advertising, because I love lying". He also went on to accuse them all of having “phony careers and meaningless lives”.

The stand-up comedian, actor and producer is making his directorial debut this month with the film 'Unfrosted: The Pop Tart Story', which charts the breakfast wars of 1960s America. It stars Hugh Grant as the Frosties character Tony the Tiger, and Seinfeld told Total Film magazine, with characteristic frankness, that "it might just be the dumbest film ever made."

Dumb or not, the breakfast cereal market itself is serious business. According to Kit Gammell, the co-founder of breakfast cereal manufacturer Surreal, cereal has grown massively since the 80s – it’s now the UK's third largest food and drink category, worth over £2 billion – and he says it’s done all that without really evolving at all.

"It’s the same Big Three - Kellogg, Weetabix, Nestle - pushing the same products as they were in the 80s, and even before that. Now we’re seeing people becoming more health conscious ditching the classic sugary cereals in favour of healthier alternatives,” he says. Surreal is one of these challengers.

It has entered a battle that has always been fought between the Davids (like Surreal) and the Goliathan Big Three. Amelia Redding, planning partner at Leo Burnett, who also looks after the agency's Kellogg's account, says: "There is no doubt the behemoths Kellogg, Nestle and General Mills have battled for bowls of the nation for decades. It may not be the hot-bed of corporate espionage implied by Unfrosted, but the battle has been ever-evolving in UK and Europe.

"I’ve got stronger memories of cereal brand jingles, characters and slogans than I’ve got of my own grandparents."

Andy Burrell, creative partner at BMB

During the 20th Century, breakfast beyond the bowl was limited, and cereal reigned. There was only one champ: Kellogg. The OG of cereal, they owned breakfast tables with tasty bowlfuls and Kellogg’s entertainment. More than just fuel, it was cartoons and quizzes on the back of the box, fun toys you’d fight your siblings for buried in the box – remember those bike reflectors like Tony the Tiger, or Cornelius the Cockerel?

Everyone remembers how 'Grrrrrreat' Tony the Tiger was? A 2010 study found that 50 per cent of children 'say that food from a package decorated with a cartoon celebrity such as Shrek tastes better than the same exact food from a plain package', CNN reported at the time. So it was little wonder that regulators would look at reigning in their influence in a bid to thwart child obesity - although some parents had already taken matters into their own hands and actually taken responsibility for their children's diets.

"Kellogg's Frosties. 'Theeeeey’re banned'. Well at least they were in my house," says the BMB creative Andy Burrell. "Sorry Tony, it’s two plain Weetabix for me, my mum’s an E-numbers tyrant. But, like anything verboten, that only makes you want it more."

It's little wonder that supermarket breakfast aisles of the eighties and early nineties were so seductive for children with a range of friendly brand characters trying to give you the next sugary fix.

"Cereal boxes were our ipads," Burrell continues. "Them and Argos catalogues. The cartoons on the front, the word searches and quizzes on the back. The toy in the bottom that you’d borderline-assault your siblings for. We were hooked, and it was brilliant."

Leo Burnett's Redding agrees that all those brand icons dominated. "The golden era of cereal advertising was busy in iconic characters and jingles. There’s no forgetting those much-loved characters but also the famed jingles. Read ‘It’s tasty tasty, very very tasty…’ or ‘I’d rather have a bowl…’. and I defy you not to fill in the blanks and break out into those catchy ad tunes," she says.

"There were plenty of brands wanting in on the breakfast scene, but very few plucky contenders wanting to take on Tony or Coco – Honey Monster didn’t quite achieve the same clout."

That said, this spot inspired by the famous Honda ad 'Cog' for the brand, gave it a very good try:

And this spot will remind readers of a certain age how Ready Brek was "central heating for kids":

Burrell continues: "I’ve got stronger memories of cereal brand jingles, characters and slogans than I’ve got of my own grandparents. Standouts are the Lucky Charms leprechaun, Hunger (of Shreddies fame) and the Ricicles spaceman, who shits all over Snap, Crackle and Pop."

But with a greater focus on healthy eating (and legislation preventing brand icons appearing in ads for products deemed 'unhealthy'), characters retreated and an element of entertainment - for kids at least - was lost.

And there were other battles to fight, as Reddings points out. "As trends moved towards healthy, the competitiveness over nutritional benefits rose. There was a rush on oats and granola. And of course outside cereal, options abounded and we saw avocado avo-go at cereal. Healthier is a positive for our mental and physical wellbeing, but yawn… haven’t mornings become a little more dull?," she says.

What's more, the battle has moved from brand characters to private label, with supermarkets all seeking to produce cheaper copies of the originals (even if their formulation is not as good). This is a battle that Reddings thinks brands are well placed to win.

"As the breakfast occasion becomes more fragmented and competitive, it’s the good mood feels that only brands can bring that will win," she says. "Getting yourself emotionally ready every morning can be tough. The opportunity for cereal brands is to reinvent that entertainment of the halcyon days and give people something to smile about in the mornings."

As to future breakfast trends, Surreal's Gammell says that healthy breakfast products will continue. "Nutrition that’s convenient, affordable and – most importantly - tasty is only going to get bigger. Products that combine high protein and low sugar have been growing over the last decade, and that’ll only continue," he says.

But there's still room for nostalgia - for brand characters and ads from times gone-by. BMB's Burrell points out that you can immerse yourself even further.

"If you haven’t been to the Cereal Killer Cafe, get yourself along there urgently," he says."The guilt of contributing to the scourge of gentrification and the sting of paying £5 for a bowl of cereal is far outweighed by the burst of overwhelming sugary nostalgia you’ll experience taking yourself, spoon in hand, back to simpler (and dare I say happier) times."

If Seinfeld is right (and we're not saying he is), many of these joyful ads were only telling little white lies, after all.


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