Like most 60-year olds, Tony the Tiger has gone through his share of changes over the years. He once got a facelift to round off his football-shaped head and even changed his eye color from green to yellow. Yes, even the fiercest of felines has a bit of vanity.
Tony's purpose in life, however, has never wavered -- sell Frosted Flakes to kids and grocery-buying moms. But now, as the food industry faces a crackdown on advertising to children, Kellogg Co. has found a new target for Tony: Dads.
In a new campaign by longtime agency Leo Burnett, Frosted Flakes is reaching out to fathers with TV ads that show a dad, son and Tony tossing a football in the backyard. The trio then heads to the kitchen for some post-game Flakes, as the voiceover intones "share what you love with who you love." Kellogg, which ran a similar ad featuring baseball last year, is going all-in this fall, adding as a spokesman ESPN sports anchor (and dad) Rece Davis, who is featured on an ESPN microsite sponsored by the cereal.
The campaign is meant to tap into the growing trend of dads buying groceries. More than half of men ages 18 to 64 identify themselves as the primary shopper in the household, but only 22 % to 24% feel that packaged-goods advertising is speaking to them, according to a recent survey of 2,400 U.S. men by Yahoo. Also, Kellogg and Leo Burnett say they have found that more dads are eating Frosted Flakes along with their children.
"Dads love to share the things that he is passionate about with his kid and Frosted Flakes and sports are two of those things," said Kellogg Senior Marketing Director AnneMarie Suarez-Davis.
The campaign -- which will air during adult programming on networks including ESPN -- comes as Kellogg and other food advertisers face a new proposal by the federal government that would all but eliminate kid-targeted ads for sugary cereals such as Frosted Flakes. The industry, led by the Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative , has countered with rules that are less strict, but still tighter than the initiative's current guidelines. Indeed, the industry's proposal -- which would take effect in late 2013 -- would bar Kellogg from running Frosted Flakes ads to kids unless the cereal is reformulated to lower its sugar content. The cereal now has 11 grams of sugar per serving, while the new rules would prohibit child-directed ads for breakfast cereals that have more than 10 grams of sugar.
The new campaign ostensibly allows Kellogg to keep Frosted Flakes top of mind with dads (and by extension, their kids) without running afoul of the new proposals. Still, Kellogg representatives said the planned crackdown in no way played a role in their new strategy. "This campaign came from the place of understanding that there was a big opportunity on Frosted Flakes up against dad," not in response to external pressure, Ms. Suarez-Davis said. Indeed, Kellogg is still running a kid-focused campaign, which currently targets Little Leaguers, including a TV ad and website featuring baseball tips from Tony.
Of course, Tony still has his critics, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose battle with Kellogg in 2006 and 2007 led the company to adopt nutrition standards for what it advertises to children, including barring kids' ads for products with more than 200 calories per serving. (Frosted Flakes has 110.)
"At its best it is cynical advertising" to use a sugary cereal character to tell kids to exercise, said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. "Eating Frosted Flakes and then going and running around the block are not going to solve the obesity crisis," he said. But at the same time, he said there was "nothing deceptive" about the new dad ads and even credited Kellogg for spreading a good message of "eating and sharing sports with your kids."
Tony's appearance has changed quite a bit over the years since since he was first created by Leo Burnett in 1951 to sell the then-new cereal. He's grown more muscles and now stands at six-feet-two. But in the past few decades, his sports-themed message has remained pretty consistent, such as a 1980s-era ad showing Tony interacting with kids at a volleyball game and explaining how the flakes can "bring out the tiger in you." And the message has worked: Tony ranked No. 9 on Ad Age 's 1999 list of the Top 10 Advertising Icons of the Century, just behind Aunt Jemima and the Michelin Man.
Even Tony's voice remained constant, forever supplied by Thurl Ravenscroft until he died a few years ago. Leo Burnett spent more than six months trying to find a suitable replacement before finally finding an actor who sounded similar. "We saw hundreds of people, even Thurl's son we looked at," said Craig Barnard, Leo Burnett senior VP-creative director. Tony's "voice is so indentified with his character -- that deep, loving, tender voice." (He declined to name the replacement, although he said it is not Thurl's son.)
Meantime, at age 60, Tony endures, outliving his mother, Mama Tony; his wife, Mr. . Tony; his daughter, Antoinette; and son, Tony Jr. -- who were all introduced over the years but later dropped.