The Internet has had a lot of talk about cereal commercial mascots, but I figured I might as well add my voice to the hubbub. I never was big on this sort of dry cereal myself, partially because my parents didn’t buy it, and partially because I don’t like milk. The commercials, however, have stuck with me, to the point that they’ll sometimes pop into my head when I’m trying to think of something more important. For some reason, the prevailing attitude in advertising sugar-drenched cereals to kids has been to present the product as more valuable than gold bouillon and more addictive than cocaine. Begging, stealing, mind games, competition, and travel to exotic places are frequently used methods of obtaining more artificially colored goodness. While such advertising techniques are occasionally used for other products, they’re most prominent for cereal. The role of the mascots varies from one cereal to another, with some of them being the ones who are always after the cereal and others guarding it, while still others don’t fit into that pattern at all.
Trix Rabbit – Is there anyone who DOESN’T root for this rather pathetic character, whose modus operandi for decades now has been to try to obtain some Trix through any means necessary, only to be thwarted at the last second by some annoying children who insist, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!” I don’t think it’s ever been explained WHY Trix are just for kids, yet the kids are always eager to enforce the rule. The Rabbit himself seems to accept it as well; he attempts to circumvent the law, not decry it as unfair, and often sabotages himself. I can’t help but see this as a metaphor for prejudicial laws in real life, like those against gay marriage. I’ve yet to see an argument against it that made the slightest brightly-colored cornball of sense, but people will spend millions of dollars to insist, “Silly homosexuals, marriage is between a man and a woman!” I suppose the reason the Trix issue has never turned into a civil rights thing is that most of the Rabbit’s compatriots favor carrots and lettuce over artificially flavored grain products. I’m not sure why this particular lagomorph has a taste for Trix, but it’s apparently so pervasive that he rarely thinks about anything else.
Interestingly, there have been a few occasions when whether the Rabbit should get a bowl of Trix was put to a vote, and I’m pretty sure real-life kids overwhelmingly voted yes ever time, proving that they’re not as nasty as the children in commercials.
Lucky the Leprechaun – The mascot for Lucky Charms is in some ways the reverse of the Rabbit, in that instead of constantly trying to get cereal from kids, the kids chase him to try to take it. Traditionally, the legend is that leprechauns will give you gold or wishes if you catch them, but as I mentioned before, commercials make cereal into the most valuable commodity on Earth.
While Lucky makes every effort to get away from the pursuing kids, he never seems all that upset when they inevitably do take the cereal from him. I guess that, when you can always make some more with your magical powers, it’s not that big of a deal. It does strike me that it would kind of suck to have magic that was largely limited to manipulating chunks of marshmallow, but maybe he prefers it to making shoes, generally the official occupation for leprechauns.
Which makes me wonder why there are never leprechauns in the commercials for the hottest new sneakers. “Kids are always after me Nike Air Jordans,” or whatever.
Sonny the Cuckoo Bird – Here we see a character trying to overcome his cereal addiction, only to be drawn back into it every time. Early Cocoa Puffs commercials featured his grandfather as well, which is how his name came to be Sonny.
The ones I grew up with typically had kids forcing the cereal on Sonny, which would result in his going “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” just as he did when Gramps gave him some. Why the kids are so eager to keep the poor guy’s addiction going isn’t clear. I suppose they either find his unhinged behavior entertaining or they’re shills for General Mills, if not both. Sonny has occasionally had the chance to force Cocoa Puffs on others, so maybe he’s a pusher as well as a user.
Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble – When these characters are often shown devouring enormous slabs of meat from animals that should be extinct, it seems a little odd that they’d get so excited over tiny pieces of cereal, but that’s what the advertising campaign for Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles would have us believe. This isn’t the first instance of established cartoon characters becoming cereal mascots. Snagglepuss used to advertise Cocoa Krispies, and Quck Draw McGraw was the spokes-horse for Sugar Smacks for a few years. I do, however, think it might have been the first case of a cereal being made specifically to tie into a cartoon. The earliest Pebbles commercials I’ve seen just have Fred and Barney sharing breakfast with live-action kids, but the model that stuck for years was to have Barney tricking Fred in order to take his cereal. This raises the oft-asked question as to why Barney can’t just buy some at the store, especially since some of his schemes have to be considerably more expensive than purchasing cereal. On the other hand, it’s implied by Barney’s disguises that Fred is willing to share his breakfast with total strangers, but not his best friend. And there’s the oddity of Fred’s favorite cereal sharing a name with his daughter. (According to Wikipedia, early working names for the cereals were Flint Chips and Rubble Stones, which sound even less appetizing.) Still, I appreciate that the commercials stick to the Flintstones’ established universe, often including the same sorts of gags that were common on the show.
For what it’s worth, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are still babies when they appear in the commercials, despite previously being adults in some television specials.
Sugar Bear – His shtick has changed sometimes over the years, as has his appearance and the name of his cereal, but his personality has remained basically the same. He’s a cool character, adopting a laid-back attitude and singing about his chosen product to the tune of “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.” His original voice actor, Gerry Matthews, based the bear’s voice on Dean Martin’s. Some commercials show him using Sugar Crisp to gain super strength and fight off villains. Seems like this could be misleading to the kids watching, since they don’t get super powers when they eat it, but maybe it only works that way for cartoon bears. Other commercials put Sugar Bear in the thief role, having him steal the cereal from an old lady called Granny Goodwitch.
As the Nostalgia Critic put it, “If anyone can make stealing from the elderly cool, it’s Sugar Bear!” The cereal was renamed Golden Crisp at some point in the eighties, as part of a trend of removing the word “sugar” from names. Despite this, it still apparently has more sugar than most other cereals, and the mascot is still Sugar Bear. I guess “Golden Bear” was already taken by the Berlin International Film Festival.
Tony the Tiger – Another character who’s presented as cool rather than neurotic, albeit cool in a different way from Sugar Bear. He’s an accomplished athlete, and for some reason attributes his prowess to cereal rather than simply being a super-muscular tiger. His product is said to “bring out the tiger in you,” but I don’t know if that extends to being a tiger in the sack. Considering that corn flakes were originally created to keep down the libido, though, I guess not. Tony’s appearance has changed quite a bit over the years, although his bandana has remained constant.
According to Wikipedia, it was revealed in the 1970s that Tony was Italian-American, which makes a certain amount of sense, but also makes me wonder how many anthropomorphic tigers there are in Italy. Throughout most of his life, Tony was voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft, who did a lot of voice work, but this remains his most famous role. By the way, Tony’s cereal name was also affected by the breakfast version of political correctness, changing from Sugar Frosted Flakes to simply Frosted Flakes.
Toucan Sam – This tropical bird’s thing is following his nose to his favorite cereal, Froot Loops, which for some reason is frequently found lying around in the jungle. Most of the Froot Loops commercials I remember from my youth have Sam leading other animals to the cereal, but more recent ones have him thwarting villains with help from his nephews Puey and Louis and his niece Susey.
Why Disney’s lawyers are apparently okay with this isn’t clear. Actually, the nephews appeared in some very early Froot Loops commercials, but I don’t think they had names then. This page speculates that Sam is based on the keel-billed toucan of Central America. His original voice was Mel Blanc, but he was soon switched over to Paul Frees doing an English accent, rather odd for a Latin American animal.
Cap’n Crunch – Created by the Jay Ward Studio, the Cap’n seems to have a more elaborately planned out world than many of these other characters. His full name is Horatio Magellan Crunch, and he was born on Crunch Island in the Sea of Milk. The earliest commercials had him captaining a ship called the Guppy, with a crew of four children and a dog.
His nemesis was the barefoot French pirate Jean LaFoote, named after the real-life French pirate Jean Lafitte.
In the mid-eighties, he began fighting some new enemies, the Soggies. They worked for a robot called the Sogmaster, although the Soggies themselves have long outlasted their leader as far as actual commercial appearances go.
Recently, Cap’n Crunch’s rank has been called into question, as his insignia has only three stripes, which would make him a Commander.
Then again, was it ever established that the Cap’n was in the Navy, and not just called “Cap’n” because he has his own ship? The scandal is only heightened by the fact that the guy is known to employ child labor. Regardless, by the year 3000, he’ll apparently be promoted to Admiral. By the way, Jay Ward also created the original mascot for King Vitaman, but he’s no longer in use.
For a long time the boxes featured an actual photograph of a guy rather absurdly dressed up as a king, but now they’re back to employing a drawing instead.
Maybe “King Vitaman” is a title rather than a name, or his kingdom has had several kings with the same name.
If I haven’t included your favorite cereal mascot, that doesn’t preclude their inclusion in a future post. For instance, I know I left out the long-standing Snap, Crackle, and Pop; but I can’t recall their commercials ever really having plots in the sense that the ones I’ve listed did.