by Divya Jagnarain, April 5, 2022
It’s 7:15 AM on a Monday morning. Your bus will arrive outside your house in fifteen minutes. Half asleep, you reach into your cabinet and grab a vibrantly colored box of General Mills’ Trix cereal. The nutrition label sticks out, but as usual, you don’t care to read it. It’s colorful, grabs your attention, is easy to prepare and tasty. Many of the cereal boxes advertised on the shelves of grocery stores are designed in such a way to grab the attention of loud, demanding children. While making parents out to be the bad guys, who can say “no” to this brightly colored box of sugar?
What is it about the color of the box and the details of the illustrations that draw children in? According to Leatrice Eiseman, director of Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training and executive director of Pantone Color Institute, “Children are inevitably fascinated by brighter colors from early infancy” (Parpis, 4). Studies have shown that the eyes of growing children will be attracted to the primary colors, red, blue, and yellow (Parpis, 4). Marketing companies, such as those of General Mills’ Trix use this to their advantage.
Since their eyes are not fully developed yet, from an early age children have a preference for bright colors. These colors are much easier to perceive than faint shades. The bright colors typically used by companies targeting children stand out more in their field of vision (Pancare, 3). On Trix cereal boxes, one can find an abundance of reds, greens, yellows, purples, etc. The combination of these contrasting colors is inviting to a bored child strolling through the aisles of a grocery store.
Plastered on cereal boxes all over America, the Trix Rabbit, illustrated by Joe Harris has captivated the minds of youths. The Trix Rabbit, commonly referred to as Tricks, has a way of connecting to children. “And, of course, what we feel connected to—which happens when someone, even a cartoon character, makes eyes at us—we’re more likely to buy,” states Alice G. Walton of Forbes Magazine (Walton, para 1). Having a character representing one’s brand that is inviting and entertaining bodes well to grab the attention to young minds.
The Trix Rabbit is more than meets the eye, however. In the Journal of Popular Culture, author Thomas Green contends that Trix the Rabbit bears more than a passing resemblance to a “trickster” (Eisenberg, 118). Green writes, “Tricksters are often depicted as participating in some kind of trick, theft, or sacrifice that results in the gift of the useful technology or plant to humanity” (Eisenberg, 118). Similarly, on television commercials, Trix the Rabbit is willing to cheat or deceive to acquire the toothsome cereal from unsuspecting children. That’s where the famous slogan, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids,” comes into play.
From the 1970s to the present day, this harmless rabbit has been trying to get a taste of the eye-catching cereal but has failed to do so due to “selfish children” refusing to share. Trix the Rabbit has to resort to concealing his identity in costumes in order to trick the children. From disguising himself as an astronaut to a breakdancer, Trix the Rabbit takes on the costume of whatever advertisers perceive as popular with children at that time (Eisenberg, 120). In doing so, advertisers succeed in their goal to captivate young audiences. On the contrary, Trix the Rabbit, when he is nearing his goal of acquiring the delicious fruity goodness, his ears always spring free, exposing his true identity (Taylor, para 2). This iconic, well-known television commercial has been planted in the memories of many generations.
To understand how television companies advertise to specific consumer segments such as children, teenagers, and adults, one must assess the nutritional quality, packaging, and co-branding of the product (Berning et al., para 4). In other words, a cereal’s nutritional profile, package attributes, and co-branding correspond to television advertising targeted at specific audiences. Often, breakfast cereal packaging is “covered in brand characters, promotional opportunities, nutritional claims, and other engaging marketing strategies” (Berning et al., para 13). As mentioned beforehand, Trix the Rabbit is an identifiable character which entices young consumers. In other popular brands, children are drawn to Toucan Sam and Cap’n Crunch in the same light.
The attractiveness of brand profiles are heightened with the addition of “games on the box, toys in the box, and other forms of brand enhancements” (Berning et al., para 14). On the rear of a General Mills’ Trix™ Cereal box, one can find an abundance of enticing activities. Such activities include “Tumblin’ in Trix,” “Name the Rabbit,” “Hurray for Fruity Shapes,” and so on and so forth. These activities can range from short, adventurous stories to mini puzzle games to full-blown challenges. By putting different activities on these boxes, it begs consumers to buy often to complete the next set.
Furthermore, breakfast cereal packaging is used to promote product co-branding. For instance, a child walking down the cereal aisle in a grocery store would be drawn to the cereal box with a famous athlete or character from a movie. According to Qu Rao et al, “co-branding can help gain increased access to new markets and can signal reputation and quality” (Berning et al., para 15). Television or movie themes, athlete endorsements, or cartoon endorsements are effective ways of targeting new consumers.
In order for the product to be picked up from the shelves, taken to the register, bagged, taken home, and consumed, advertisers must be able to win over the hearts of both the child and parent. In regards to breakfast cereals, manufacturers are aware that sugar appeals to children. According to statistics, “a third of U.S. consumers buy one box of cereal per trip, 41% buy two and 19% buy three or more” (Sherred, para 3). Chief marketing officer of Shopkick, Kristy Stromberg says “We’ve seen that people are loyal to the brands and tastes they love, and despite a movement towards incorporating healthier options, consumers will always love classic favorites” (Sherred, para 15). At the end of the day, taste is the deciding factor when it comes to choosing breakfast cereals.
Of the millions of Americans that shop every day, only 18% of consumers look at the nutritional values before purchasing. On the side of a box of General Mills’ Trix is the “Nutrition Facts.” The nutrition facts are clearly visible with the mass and percentage of its ingredients. Many consumers overlook this nutrition label as it is hard to understand. Having it written very plain and simple, one chooses not to question the “healthiness” of the cereal. Additionally, right below the concentrations of cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrate, and proteins are the percentage of vitamins, irons and calcium listed. It’s general knowledge that these minerals are pivotal to one’s diet. Minerals help our bodies develop and function. For instance, iron is important for cell growth, development, and normal body functions. According to Robert Earl et al, “the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia among young children has been declining, and the decline is attributed to the use of iron-fortified formula and cereal, appropriate supplementation of breastfed infants, and later introduction of cow’s milk to infants’ diets than had been typical in the past” (Earl, 3). Having these minerals listed on the boxes of cereal in clear and readable font further persuades one to purchase said cereal, whether they read it or not.
As insignificant as it seems, the font displayed on these cereal boxes do make a difference. A brand’s chosen typeface reflects the personality of the brand. Trix™ cereal utilizes fonts such as Franklin Gothic Heavy, Helvetica Regular, Helvetica Black, and other plain fonts. In accordance to UX design student Liz Fu of University of Michigan, “The typefaces were categorized according to their personality traits and typographical features such as x-height proportion, ascender and descender proportion, font weight, stroke design, and counter design, as well as the kerning of the letter pairs. These typographical features give typefaces their personality” (Fu, para 6). These fonts are characterized with the personality traits of directness, gentleness, cheerfulness, and fearfulness. Using fonts of such that have a very familiar, legible, plain, and straightforward personality is agreeable to consumers.
How can advertisers get this sugary goodness into the household of roughly all Americans? The answer is simple: Box Tops. Popular among cereal boxes are the inclusion of “Box Tops,” which are used for educational purposes. Trix™ cereal is in participation with the “Box Tops for Education” program. Not only on Trix™ cereals, but many popular cereal brands have the words “Every valid Box Tops clip is worth 10¢ for your school” printed on their products as well. In collecting box tops to raise funds for one’s school, children are taught the importance of giving back and how small actions can impact others in a fun way. By doing so, they earn the school’s funds that can be used towards things like school supplies, books, and field trips (Hanawalt, para 2). This characteristic on cereal boxes is appealing to parents along with their children. Many parents want to contribute to their children’s education in one way, shape, or form—whether that is through the donations of box tops or staying up late at the dinner table to complete their child’s science project on time.
By understanding how the minds of their target audience works, marketing companies are able to play to their advantage. Through the usage of vibrant colors, large fonts, simple words, and enticing games, General Mills’ Trix™ Cereal has stolen the hearts and money of Americans all across the country. Many companies recognize that children are easy targets to sell to. The demanding voices of children bodes well for their products to sell. Where nagging children go, frustrated parents follow.
Berning, Joshua, and Adam N. Rabinowitz. “Targeted Advertising In The Breakfast Cereal Industry.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, vol. 49, no. 3, 2017, pp. 382–399. doi:10.1017/aae.2017.1.
Earl, Robert O., et al. Iron Deficiency Anemia Recommended Guidelines for the Prevention, Detection, and Management Among U.S. Children and Women of Childbearing Age. National Academy Press, 1993.
Fu, Liz. “How Typefaces Affect Consumer Perception of Brand Personality.” Medium, 15 Dec. 2017, medium.com/@lizfu/how-typefaces-affect-consumer-perception-of-brand-personality-a8ba928fbad4.
Hanawalt, Zara. “Parents Can Now ‘Clip’ Box Tops Using an App.” Motherly, 30 July 2019, mother.ly/news/box-tops-program-is-going-digital.
Pancare, Rachel. “How Do Bright Colors Appeal to Kids?” Sciencing, 2 Mar. 2019, sciencing.com/do-bright-colors-appeal-kids-5476948.html.
Parpis, Eleftheria. “The Color of Money: The Art, Science and Psychological Appeal of Bright colors.” Brandweek, vol. 51, no. 17, Apr. 2010.
Sherred, Kristine. “Shopkick Survey: 96% of US Consumers Buy Cereal Every Time They Shop, Sweet Brands Still #1.” Bakeryandsnacks.com, 5 Mar. 2019, bakeryandsnacks.com/Article/2019/03/05/96-of-US-consumers-buy-cereal-every-time-they-shop-survey-reveals.
Eisenberg, Lee. Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What. Free Press, 2009.
Taylor, Heather. “Silly Rabbit! The Trix Rabbit Celebrates His 60th Anniversary.” POPICON, 5 Aug. 2019, popicon.life/silly-rabbit-the-trix-rabbit-celebrates-his-60th-anniversary/.
Walton, Alice G. “The Sticky Methods Of Marketing Cereal To Kids.” Forbes, 4 Apr. 2014, forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/04/04/the-sticky-world-of-marketing-cereal-to-kids/#18a7bdac7562.