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10 Yummy Cereal Marketing Ideas

Today we’re going to talk about Serial. No, just kidding, not that kind of cereal. Remember how much fun it was to play the games on the back of Captain Crunch boxes?

Cereal box marketing helped lead the industry to its height of $14 billion years ago. Not too shabby for clover-shaped marshmallows if you ask me! So here I’ll share some ideas for how you can apply their sneaky, effective methods. Don’t worry, these cereal marketing Trix are not just for kids.

Discover magical cereal box marketing techniques

Cereal box marketing techniques can help you tap into nostalgia. According to HubSpot, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgic feelings made participants more willing to spend money on consumer goods and services. Associating brand messaging with positive references from the 90s, 80s — and even the 70s — humanizes brands, forging meaningful connections between the past and present, and makes people feel good. The key is to create an emotional hook using nostalgia while also offering something new. Here are a few ways to do that.

1. Use every surface

It all begins with identifying your hidden assets. Basically what unused real-estate do your products come with? Cereal companies use the front, backs, and even insides of their product. For your company these surfaces might be:

  • Content download thank you pages
  • Your “about” page
  • Your website footer
  • The back of your shop door
  • The inside of your product packaging
  • The header of your emails
  • The page that launches your product (for example, for the longest time Zoom only presented a blank page after you joined a meeting)

How could you use these spaces to further captivate customers?

2. Unleash the bright colors

OMG just look at the rainbow of colors that greets your eyes in the cereal aisle. You basically can’t miss these boxes.

Colorful cereal boxes

Minimalist web design – meaning lots of white negative space – is in. Why not buck the trend to stand out? Here are a few ways to incorporate bold and bright color palettes into your marketing:

  • Use eye-catching color palettes in email templates. Use the Grateful Dead bears as a color guide for the background colors in the template.
  • Create a stunning fat header on your website. Sort of like the big Google logo on Google, but as part of the header.
  • Play with gradients and paint drips on your website and in social graphics.

3. Create a fun animal character

From Trix’s silly rabbit to Smacks’ frog and Tony the Tiger, animated characters thrive in cereal box habitats. And these characters really persuaded kids to pick their cereal. “A study in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing found…characters on packaging influences choice between two brands of similar products.” according to FoodDive. Your company could consider:

  • Creating a chatbot animated character
  • Having a character featured in your email welcome stream or product onboarding flow
  • Adding an animated character doing different things to your blog posts as accompanying imagery
  • Sending a stuffed animal character to customers for their pets or children

4. Harness eye-conscious merchandising

A lot of children’s cereals feature characters looking down, as revealed by FiveThirtyEight. This was a tactic used to build trust with children as they peered up at cereal boxes on shelves.

Cereal box marketing featuring characters

Consider how people will be positioned when interacting with your advertisements:

  • If your ads will appear in right sidebar, consider having people or characters featured in them look a bit to their right
  • Consider using a human or character face as a sign off to all your company emails, with their eyes looking straight ahead
  • For webinars ensure speakers are even with the computer, looking right into it rather than gazing down or up

5. Play games, all sorts

In addition to games such as “find the shoe” being on the back of cereal boxes, back in the day, Chex gave away 30 million Chex Quest CD-ROMs (along with 50 hours of America Online!) – the first time a video game was ever offered as a cereal box giveaway. Recently, they debuted a new, free, high-definition version of the game called Chex Quest on the online gaming platform Steam. And today many sites such as AppleJacks.comReesesPuffs.com, and CornPops.com all have interactive games. Here’s how you can incorporate games into your marketing:

  • Partner with a company to give away something extra to your customers
  • Add a crossword to an ebook
  • Embed a search puzzle in an email
  • Pay independent artists to design a coloring book featuring your products
  • End every blog post with a game that ensures the reader learned the in-post content

6. Hide toys

Cereal box toys used to be a thing. Now boxes tend to have an access code that can be redeemed online for rewards, for example a chance at winning movie tickets. However, General Mills seems to be trying to revive cereal box toys with new promotions. In 2014, boxes of Cocoa Puffs included Mega Bloks cars, and in 2015, there were Star Wars toys in boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Here’s how you can use toys in your marketing:

  • Use a prize wheel at events
  • Mail out scratch off cards
  • Send a useful toy along with a customer’s first purchase, such as a deck of cards
  • Give out a desk toy for high product usage
  • Mousepads are a thing of the past but how about sending a laptop placemat
  • Plant surprise easter egg clues throughout your website

7. Include book prizes

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes had the first breakfast cereal prize. The Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Book was given to customers in the stores by merchants at the time of purchase of two packages of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. In 1909, Kellogg’s changed the book giveaway to a premium mail-in offer for the cost of a dime. By 1912, Kellogg’s had distributed 2.5 million Jungleland books. Here are some ways to apply this technique to your marketing:

  • Include blog posts as a magazine or combined with products as a catalog with purchases
  • Team up with an author to get them to offer your product placement in their story (how brands do with TV shows) in exchange for you doing a book giveaway
  • Create an office music playlist and give it away on Spotify
  • Pay a writer to bundle their blog posts for your company up as a Kindle book on Amazon
  • Pay an illustrator to create a comic about your company every week, then bundle it into a book

8. Include collectibles

In 1945, Kellogg inserted a prize in the form of pin-back buttons (that ultimately featured U.S. Army squadrons, as well as characters from newspaper comics) into each box of Pep cereal. Their 3D Baseball and Football Cards produced by Optigraphics were a big hit from 1970 to 1983. And another popular collectable series was Crater Critters. Add collectibles to your marketing mix:

  • Create limited edition sticker sheets that are unlocked by certain purchases
  • Start your own line of collectible cards inspired by great accomplishments in your field
  • Create pins for different levels of users, or for how many years the customer has been a customer

9. Extend into video

Pebbles Cereal launched an educational web series, “Daily Yabba Dabba Doo,” in which magicians, dancers, comedians, and artists teach something new such as a craft, magic trick, or dance. The first episode is three minutes long and features Eli Sanchez who teaches a disappearing toothpick illusion using items in your house. Here’s how to build your branded content:

  • Create videos of how you make your product
  • Check Quora, Reddit, and Google to understand what questions people have related to your products so you can create Youtubes for them
  • Pay a TikToker to showcase your products in their videos

10. Showcase celebrities

Remember your favorite athlete on the Wheaties box? Back in 1934 Lou Gehrig became the first athlete featured. Of which Wheaties said, “Testimonials from athletic greats like Lou Gehrig turned the modest wheat flake into something of a legend…Wheaties cereal was what you ate if you wanted to be like the professionals – it had truly become the ‘Breakfast of Champions.’” To this day, the General Mills brand still features athletes on its boxes, such as Stephen Curry in 2015. Here’s how you can incorporate celebrities in your marketing:

  • Offer virtual golf or tennis lessons from pros for your best customers
  • Profile a customer or employee of the month
  • Sponsor a youth sports team
  • Pay a celebrity to headline your biggest event
  • Do an Instagram Live Q&A with an athlete

Now you’re ready to bring cereal box marketing back⁠— with a twist

As C.W. Post once said, as he embarked on a career that would earn him a net worth of basically $800 million, “The sunshine that makes a business plant grow is advertising.” When you use all these marketing techniques throughout your branded advertising, your customers will surely crave more – even without the sugar.

Would it be too much to ask you to please send a $5 tip to my Venmo tip jar because it’ll help pay to host this site? @megsterr.

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Thank you so much! Up next, learn all about the apples and castles type thinking that led to this post.

By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.