Many people who grew up in the 80s and 90s (and the older siblings/parents of said individuals) will remember that glorious feeling of coming home from a grueling day of cursive, recess, and countless minutes wasted trying to open the mouth of that insufferable chocolate milk carton at lunch. After disrobing the important “don’t lounge around in that” school clothes and shedding the second skin of your backpack, one would melt into the living room floor (or Dad’s chair…until Dad came home) and drown out the day in the pale blue wash of the tube.
Between spurts of children’s cartoons, the Olsen twins’ crime series emergence, and the ever-hunky Zach Morris, came 30-second glimpses into Heaven—where we found out what the coolest toys, games, and other fodder for our looming Christmas lists were. Though, most memorable on each of these commercials—specifically the cereal advertisements—were the mascots that we could not only relate to, but love.
Cap’N Crunch had The Captain; Froot Loops had ol’ Tucan Sam; Cocoa Puffs boasted a low-budget Kellogg’s bird; a cereal Brat Pack in the form of Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Booberry; Sugar Smacks had an adorable yet creepily-done anthropomorphic frog, and the list goes on and on. EVERY single cereal had a beloved spokesperson that children not only desired to share their morning meal with, but that gave us life lessons and sick 80s and 90s fashion in the form of overalls and lunch kits. But what happened to all of these spokespersons—both human and other? Are Frosted Flakes no longer “Gr-r-reat” because Tony isn’t there to say so? Are Trix still JUST for kids, or did that pesky rabbit with the craving reminiscent to that of a crackhead finally get a bowl?
Out of most cereals, the only one I believe to have made it out of the children’s realm and survive to mainstream media as we know it is Buzz, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee. Voiced by many different actors over the years, Buzz made it from Saturday mornings to working weekdays by elaborating the heart-healthy and cholesterol-lowering benefits of the cold cereal. Most other mascots were not so lucky.
As guidelines and regulations for advertising to younger demographics—namely children—changed and were strictly enforced, most cereal icons have died and been entombed on their respective boxes. While strolling the cereal aisle today, one can see the voices of yester-year, perhaps never to be heard from again. Moving forward, what will be the gimmicks of advertising to kids bring? More celebrity endorsements from the likes of a Kardashian? “Cool” factor appeal through elitism and dividing kids into the “haves” and “have-not’s?”
Really—in hindsight—were the cereal icons all that bad? Advertising to children is a delicate dance between consumerism and a regard for the innocent susceptibility of youth. While the direct cartoonization of these mascots has been deemed too heady a thing for today’s youth, those of us who came of age before the turn of this century will never forget how gr-r-reat these mascots could be.