It's time for this Kat's breakfast confession. When I munch down my cereal, I seldom look at the packaging of the box. In fact, more often than not, there is no box at all, as I partake in our home-made granola. But I made an exception for the packaging of the Kellogg's Corn Flakes box that I took delight in last week. In particular, I was drawn to the following text, which (together with some colorful visual elements that sadly I could not reproduce below) adorned the back of the box, as follows:
"Did you know?
We don't make cereals for anyone else!
Kellogg's has been making cereals for over 100 years. We're proud to say we still use only the highest quality ingredients in our unique recipes to bring only the very best cereals to your bowl.
In fact, we're so proud of our cereals we don't make them for ANYONE ELSE.
We believe only people who buy Kellogg's products should enjoy the unique and exceptional Kellogg's taste. For that reason ...
IF IT DOESN'T SAYS KELLOGG'S ON THE BOX ...
... IT ISN'T KELLOGG'S IN THE BOX!
There's a whole lot of sunshine in each and every bowl of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.
We use only corn that has been blessed with at least 120 days of sunshine.
Only then can we be sure that it's ready to harvest and ready to toast into those unmistakable crisp, golden flakes.
So let the sunshine in ....
...with Kellogg's Corn Flakes.
Kellogg's CORN FLAKES
The Sunshine Breakfast"If you made it this far, then there are several points here that are particularly
1. First there is the text that appears at the top half portion of the page, which purports to remind customers that Kellogg's does not produce corn flakes for others on a contract manufacturing basis. This is an unusual form of corrective advertisement. Instead of an appeal to the public to refrain from using the mark at issue in a generic sense, such as XEROX or KLEENEX, here the correction is geared towards driving consumers to "corn flakes" product that bear the Kellogg's brand.
2. Apparently, the fear is that consumers attribute generic qualities not simply to the term "corn flakes", but to "Kellogg's corn flakes". This is so, even if no one claims that Kellogg's per se has become generic. This is further so, despite the use of several colors and distinctive graphic elements on the box, which one would have thought further distinguished their corn flakes product from those of other manufacturers.
3. However, the appeal to Kellogg's as the unique source of this particular corn flakes product is not enough. The lower half of the text seeks to attribute to it special attributes. As epitomized in the closing slogan to the display ("The sunshine product"), the message is that the Kellogg's product has passed a sort of solar endurance test--at least 120 days of sunshine. I spent several years in the U.S. cornbelt, and 120 days of sunshine (a full day; part of day?) is quite a feat.
4. Let's assume (and I have no reason to doubt the claim) that the Kellogg's Corn Flakes product in the box on my kitchen table indeed enjoyed at least 120 days of sunshine. Why should so much exposure to the sun be a product advantage? How do we know that the private label brand corn flakes sold on the adjacent shelf has not benefited from equal solar basking? Indeed, just for purposes of argument, what would happen if the private label brand begins to claim that its product has also been blessed with 120 days of sunshine?
5. Whatever one thinks of this back-of-box promotion, the two-prong attack of (i) corrective advertising to reinforce Kellogg's as the source of the product and (ii) the claim for special product attributes, mirrors the two basic phases of classical trade mark doctrine. First, as trade marks galloped through the 19th century, we had source theory. Maybe the source was known, maybe it was anonymous, but trade marks were synonymous with source identfication.
6. At a point in the 20th century, considerations of the mark as an indicator of quality began to seep into the accepted doctrine. Later, the quality aspect became a doctrinal torrent, such that trade marks began to perform two roles--source identifier and quality identifier. That is still the case today.
7. I suspect that the advertising/marketing folks who brought us this promotion were not consciously attempting to cover both of these alternative bases for the commercial role played by trade marks. The dual function is so engrained that it was natural for them to address both of them in seeking to distinguish the Kellogg's product against the increasing challenge of private label rivals, a competition exacerbated by the economic challenges of the past three years. It will be interesting to see the effectiveness of this campaign.