Cereal boxes illustrate evolving consumer PR

Breakfast is changing, and when it comes to consumer PR in the food and beverage industry, getting the message right requires the proper mix of messaging appealing to the consumer market and messaging driving consumer tastes.

When breakfast cereal was initially introduced to the public as a viable option to get your day started, it was marketed mostly for taste and convenience. Easy for mom, and tasty for the kiddos. Things have changed. Today, cereal was once positioned as “sweet and delicious” sells on its healthiness.

A closer look at the messaging on the face of several cereal boxes brings this evolving consumer PR trend into stark relief.

Early versions of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes offered no subtlety: “Sugar frosted flakes of corn.” That’s it, and that’s all. No silver lining. No opposing healthy suggestion. Just blatant facts, delivered in black, block text. However, on today’s boxes, right above the “Frosted Flakes” (which, by the way, omits “sugar” from above Frosted Flakes), is the phrase: “Good Source of VITAMIN D.”

Post pulls the same switch with Alpha-Bits. In early incarnations, Alpha-Bits came with the subtitle: “Sugar sparkled ABCs” and was described as a “ready to eat oat cereal in Alphabet form!” Today, Alpha-Bits has erased the “sugar sparkled” from its description, opting for “20g WHOLE GRAIN” and “12 essential vitamins” in its “multigrain cereal.” This excellent example shows how buzzwords replaced plain descriptions in advertising. “Oats” has become BOTH “whole grain” and “multigrain” in a single box face. You can’t read the box without feeling pretty good about picking up those (no longer sugar sparkled but still sweetened) ABCs.

Not to pick on Kellogg’s but the company provides another excellent example with its “Corn Pops” brand. In the early days, Corn Pops were “SUGAR corn POPS” emphasis heavily on SUGAR and much less so on corn. Today, the brand is simply “Corn Pops” and the top of the box boasts the product offers a “Good Source of FIBER.” The emphasis here is clear. We know and you know there is sweetener in this cereal, but we won’t tell if you won’t think about it.

So … why? What is it about the messaging then and now hitting the right mark for consumers and what can that teach us about marketing food and beverage today?

Tell people what they expect (read: want) to hear. Everyone buying Frosted Flakes understands they are, well, “frosted.” The trick is to entice the consumer to make the next logical jump … or at least to quickly do the mental math and compromise. Sure, it’s sugary, but my kid loves it, and he will get plenty of vitamin D, which is important. The rationalization is over in a split second, and the consumer makes the call without ever having to blatantly lie to herself. Is it a thin premise? Sure. But we have more shopping to do. Let’s get that in the cart and grab some organic chicken.

Ronn Torossian is a New York based PR executive – CEO of 5WPR – and founder of the Ronn Torossian Foundation.