March 7th marks National Cereal Day, one of the most beloved holidays (perhaps ever!) for breakfast enthusiasts. Our favorite cereals are made all the more special by the beloved characters that adorn these cereal boxes. Who doesn’t get giddy, or at least feels a huge grin spread across their face, as they watch classic mascots like Sonny the Cuckoo Bird and the Trix Rabbit pop up in commercials with their zany antics?
In honor of National Cereal Day, we invite you to pour a bowl of your favorite character-approved cereal, grab a spoon, and join us for a look at some of the ad industry’s most beloved cereal icons.
Tony the Tiger | Frosted Flakes
Only one cereal mascot has a “GR-R-REAT!” catchphrase. For nearly 70 years, Tony the Tiger has been a larger than life presence for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal. His initial debut was actually a Kellogg’s spokesanimal audition. Tony rotated cereal boxes with other character contenders including Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, and Newt the Gnu.
The orange and black striped tiger was a breakout hit with consumers in 1951. Today, he remains just as popular with consumers. How does Tony do it?
Part of Tony the Tiger’s enduring appeal is that the character promotes high energy in a healthy way. Remember his soccer playing, sprinting, and beach volleyball days in the early 1990s? He’s still just as active with today’s kids (and adults!), especially on his social media platforms.
“Frosted Flakes created a fantastic brand with Tony the Tiger,” says Josh Matteson, Online Marketing Manager at Lula. “Tony represents healthy activity with every Frosted Flakes commercial highlighting a different type of physical or outdoor activity.”
Jeffrey Galak, Associate Professor of Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, is also a big fan of Tony the Tiger.
“He seems to really want to promote good values of sportsmanship and supports local and school sports,” Galak says. “Tony is accepting of all people, even promoting LGBTQ values!”
Physical evolution aside — Tony initially walked on all fours and now stands at over six feet tall — you’re gonna hear Tony roar. And audiences want to roar to that “GR-R-REAT!” tagline thanks to a little surprise powered by Kellogg’s.
Colleen Fahey is the U.S. Managing Director at sonic branding agency Sixième Son. Fahey says part of Tony’s appeal is the strength of his auditory presence.
“Kellogg’s tapped into the power of surprise by using Psychoacoustics for Tony’s slogan,” Fahey explains. “They altered the word ‘Great!’ slightly to ‘GR-R-REAT!’ This makes Tony sound like a roaring tiger and it’s easier for people to remember the slogan. It’s catchier and fun for kids to say. His signature sound has never changed. He’s still ‘GR-R-REAT!’”
They only come out for Halloween — Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry — but the General Mills spooktacular trio has a special place in the hearts of cereal enthusiasts.
Wait, should we also include their short-lived buddies Yummy Mummy and Fruit Brute? Absolutely, according to Pat Giles, Head of Studio at Holler and co-creator of the Monster Cereals character style guides.
“They are a family to me!” Giles says, noting that both Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy have reappeared on grocery shelves after a lengthy hiatus. You can even spot a box of Fruit Brute in one scene when watching the cult classic Pulp Fiction. “How many cereal characters have appeared in a Quentin Tarantino film? Fruit Brute has!”
Deb Fiorentino, Founder of boutique PR and marketing agency Fiore & Co., has been a lifelong Franken Berry fan.
“I was eight and not into princesses,” Fiorentino says. “But I liked the color pink. I think it was the combination of pink cereal, pink marshmallows, and a pink Frankenstein that attracted me.”
The taste of Franken Berry kept Fiorentino a fan of the cereal. She continued eating Franken Berry well into adulthood, even admitting that she forced her frightfully fun favorite on her kids simply to keep boxes of it in the house.
Dig ‘Em Frog | Honey Smacks
Nate Maldonado, Director of Product Design at Westminster Toys, has always had a soft spot in his heart for the Dig ‘Em Frog.
Representing Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal, the spokesfrog made his debut in 1972 as “a little frog with a big voice.” The Dig ‘Em Frog ribbited about the cereal’s great taste and how breakfast begins with a bowl full of Honey Smacks. He briefly retired in 1986 only to receive “Frog-Aid.” College students wrote Kellogg’s letters and held demonstrations begging for the spokesfrog’s return. The Dig ‘Em Frog came back the following year — we can dig this kind of revival!
Sonny the Cuckoo Bird | Cocoa Puffs
When General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs made its debut in 1958, it was the only chocolate flavored, ready-to-eat cereal in the United States. Five years later marked the introduction of Sonny the Cuckoo Bird. He loved the munchy, crunchy, and chocolatey taste of Cocoa Puffs so much that an iconic tagline was born. “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!”
Sonny represents the silly, looney side of the cereal spectrum. He doesn’t just love Cocoa Puffs. Sonny has gotta have those Cocoa Puffs. All it takes is one bite and he’s off to the races!
“He goes nuts after just one bite of Cocoa Puffs,” says Mike Lewis, Creative Strategist at Active Web Group. “He amped up mornings for kids all over the world. Sonny is the most explosive cereal brand mascot around!”
BuzzBee | Honey Nut Cheerios
Abby MacKinnon is a copywriter at Hoot Design Company who believes the best cereal brand mascot on the market is Honey Nut Cheerios’ BuzzBee.
Honey Nut Cheerios first debuted in 1979 during a recession. Everything about the cereal was a hit with consumers, from its simple, yet delicious, nuts and honey flavor to the family-focused advertising and affordable pricing. The cereal’s plucky, enthusiastic bee mascot was also a fan favorite. He went by the name “Bee” until General Mills announced a contest in 1999 to name the Cheerios mascot. “BuzzBee” was announced as the winning name in 2000.
What sets BuzzBee apart from his fellow cereal contemporaries is that, much like any bee, he has to work extra hard to promote the heart-healthy breakfast.
“Other mascots represent colorful, funny-shaped, sugar-packed cereals that are already made for kids,” MacKinnon points out. “This gives them an easy job. BuzzBee has to work harder to market his naturally flavored breakfast, but he makes it work. Ask kids, or adults, if they’d rather have their Cheerios plain or with honey, and Honey Nut Cheerios will win every time. It’s all thanks to BuzzBee!”