The Pillsbury Doughboy makes sense, too. Poppin' Fresh is so squeezably soft and so cute you just want to bake him till he's dead and then eat him.
Snap, Crackle and Pop, of course, are the finest animated sounds in advertising history. Once upon a time we even used to think they were funny -- albeit in a lame, Hanna-Barbera sort of way, not an onomatopoea-your-pants way.
But in the pantheon of Leo Burnett Co. anthropomorphic characters, the one that has always thrown us was Tony the Tiger. Crunchy, sugared cereal and a loud, boastful tiger. Huh? The connection is, at best, elusive.
All we can think of is that we, as children, enjoyed Tony for exactly the reason we enjoyed Pixie and Dixie: because he was a cartoon. Not a funny cartoon. Not a relevant cartoon. Just a cartoon. That's all it takes to be irresistible to children (which is why we think Ollie North and Al Sharpton should be on Saturday morning TV).
And so, seeing his striped countenance in the cereal aisle, we tugged extra hard on Mom's hem.
That's a guess. What is certain: A product that now depends on adults for 50% of its consumption cannot rely on pure, witless cartoon-ness to win attention. While nostalgia value and iconographic equity are priceless, Tony doesn't command baby boomers' undivided attention as he once did. (If he did, take our word for it, we'd be seeing the "CBS Evening News With Captain Kangaroo.")
Thus, for years, Burnett has used the "Shadows" campaign, depicting embarrassed grown-ups indulging their Frosted Flakes habit under a veil of darkness. The spots were clever enough, acknowledging, validating and encouraging such consumer behavior. What the ads didn't do was throw a whole, appealing new light on the brand.
Now comes a campaign that will. Under the direction of Christopher Guest ("This is Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman"), suddenly Frosted Flakes is being imbued with non-cartoon-character and non-anthropomorphic personality. The new spots are about the Frosted Flakes obsessed -- a couple who haunts the company's Battle Creek, Mich., headquarters hoping for a Tony sighting, and an anal-retentive supermarket stock boy who spends hours keeping the Frosted Flakes display just so.
Reminiscent of the sports-memorabilia- crazy character "The Rick" from an ESPN promotional campaign, the stock boy, named Curtis, has a neurotic devotion to his beloved Tony.
"I love to get here early," he says in one spot. "Sometimes 3, 4 hours early. Way before the store even opens, you know, to check on Tony." Meantime, we see him aligning the cereal boxes with a plumb bob, spirit level and surveyor's transit. "Everybody knows the Kellogg's Frosted Flakes are great on the inside. But I see it as my job to make sure they're just as great on the outside."
Meantime, in this and every spot, we get a fleeting glimpse of Tony, the cartoon, passing Hitchcock-like through the frame.
This is clever advertising that has the potential to do a reverse-Mercedes. Just as Lowe & Partners' brilliant ads made the German car more personable and contemporary and youthful, this campaign will make Frosted Flakes seem more personable, contemporary and adult. These aren't necessarily great commercials.