Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Product 19

Kelloggs’s iconic cereal Product 19, touted as a nutritious cereal-style supplement (its main purpose seems to be a vehicle to provide vitamins and minerals rather than flavor), is memorable for not much more than its name. It has a somewhat sinister, scientific, government-y prototype feel to it implied by the word “product.” Why would a company as colorful as Kelloggs, not known for their restraint in naming breakfast cereals, go for such a bizarrely bland name? Perhaps its popularity is an expression of reverse psychology: if it sounds this bad, it has to be good.

In fact, it is the result of a dearth of imagination on the part of the copywriter responsible for making this dull cereal sound exciting. His charge was to find something to compete with General Mills’s cereal Total. Finally, he went with the simplest solution: as the 19th product Kelloggs was developing that year, he let it go at that.

Still, Kelloggs found a way to make it interesting by suggesting that eating Product 19 could make people who were considerably older feel like they were 19 again. It probably made younger people feel old eating it too.

In 1988, Fort Scott summer camp, like many others, served a selection of single-portion cereals for breakfast. You could take your pick from giant boxes filled with the plastic cups with peel-off lids, grab a small carton of milk and you were set. This worked handsomely at the beginning of the summer. Campers and counselors alike had their pick of a wide variety of cereals from Froot Loops and Apple Jacks and Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Corn Flakes — but in the waning weeks of July, not so much. All that was left were huge, unplumbed boxes of Product 19, sitting there against the wall like dates at the Junior-Midget dance, just hoping and waiting to be picked.

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