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Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Advertising Wars of Kellogg's Corn Flakes


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

notable.

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.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

This isn't a new campaign. I always understood it was a response to "legend" that own-brand products were produced by the same manufacturer and so consumers were getting the same product in different branding. A bit like the reverse passing off issues in Bristol Conservatories.

Becks said...

Kellog's Corn Flakes, yum. It's been ages. I want some.

Anonymous said...

Kellogg's policy of never producing own brand goods was actually mentioned by the English High Court in the Penguin/Puffin case, United Biscuits v Asda [1997] R.P.C. 513:

"Manufacturers of well-known branded goods have, understandably, an ambivalent attitude to own-brand goods with which they are in competition - especially as the supermarkets which sell own-brand goods are usually the brand manufacturers' most important customers. Some manufacturers have a policy of never producing own-brand goods for supermarkets (Kellogg is a well-known example). Many others (including United Biscuits) do make own-brand products but do not give unnecessary publicity to the fact.


Where the manufacturer of well-known branded goods does undertake own-brand production as well, the precise specification for the own-brand product (and in particular, whether or not it is identical in quality with the brand leader) is not generally known to the public. One fairly extreme instance, which was discussed with Mr. McLeod and Mr. Blundell in the course of their evidence, is the Asda Wheat Bisks breakfast cereal which is apparently made for Asda by the manufacturer of the well-known Weetabix brand, is identical to it in quality, is packaged (without objection from the manufacturer) in a strikingly similar get-up, but is sold at a lower price. So that particular own-brand product very strongly suggests that it is the same goods from the same manufacturer, but there is nothing deceptive about that suggestion, as it is true."

David said...

unlike my granny who used to run a B&B and would buy own label cornflakes and stick them in a Kelloggs box - "they'll never know the difference once milk is added."

:-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anonymous comments above. The ad seems to be about Kellogg's educating consumers that Kellogg's do not make own label cereals. Consumers sometimes/frequently believe that own label is made by the big branded goods manufacturers.

David Hansel said...

I recall that for many years boxes of Shredded Wheat sold in the UK bore a red triangle device, which the makers (Nabisco) explained was an ancient indicator of high quality.

The Bass Red Triangle device was, of course, trade mark number 1.

Looking at that in the context of Point 6 of Neil Wilkof's blog piece makes me think that the two functions of a mark to which he refers have perhaps been around since well before the 20th Century and are intertwined?

Mark Anderson said...

I think there is a danger of over-complicating matters. My reading of this material is:

1. Kellogs wants to persuade supermarket shoppers not to buy the cheaper, "own brand" cornflakes. A common rationale among shoppers is "it's exactly the same product just without the branding" - Kellogs are trying to counter that consumer self-justification for buying the cheaper box.

2. Maize requires 120 days of sunshine for its cultivation. I learnt this at school in geography class, aged 10 or 11. I remember we had maps showing areas of the world where different crops could grow, and the number of days of sunshine that each type of crop required. We were tested on whether we remembered this information. For many years, Kellogs have latched on to this seemingly tedious fact as a marketing device. It will be true of all cornflakes, not just theirs.

Anonymous said...

On a more highbrow note, this advertising campaign was the subject of a reader's letter in Viz many years ago:

Impressed by their TV advertising campaign that they ‘don’t make cereals for anyone else’ I purchased a packet of Kellogg’s Cornflakes. Imagine my dismay when, two days later, I discovered my neighbour has a packet also.

Student Accommodation said...

I think that compaign was really very interesting....I was quite agree with Mark Anderson that there is a danger of over-complicating matters.......

Pedro Malaquias said...

I have to agree with Mark Anderson.

Kharol said...

Maybe it's my negative attitude, but I read the advertising as:
"the only way to tell our cereals from those of the competition is to look at the packaging".
sorry, just one reason more to choose another brand or one of the "no brand" products

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