Welcome to Retrobacktive, a blog dedicated to revisiting cultural milestones and obscure memories inherent to the 1980s, give or take a decade. This blog was written with the intention of constructing a digital stream of consciousness to historically map a social timeline beginning in 1981 – but this, on its own, seemed somewhat bloodless, hence the occasional incorporation of Seventies and Nineties references (this also solves issues of overlap).
This blog is based on consumerism – fashion, music, food & drink, sports, television, movies, and the devices that deliver them share two common bonds: they were built for capricious consumption, and they have lived in expandability since time immemorial. What developed in the Eighties, however, to set the Millennial Generation apart from its predecessors was the advent of new media. Before there were only commercials and what you saw in the aisle at the grocery store. The Eighties ushered in an age of computers; there was no World Wide Web plagued with pop-ups yet, but between Commodores, Atari 2600s, arcade games, MTV, and the breakdown of traditional nuclear families, late Gen X’ers and early Millennials spent more time in front of screens than any generation before. The result: a lot of short-lived products permanently etched into malleable psyches via intense visual promotion.
Some items and moments proved to be enduring and continue to entertain both new and old audiences (observe Hollywood’s recent transformation into a remake/reboot/reimage factory – reimage isn’t even a word). Yet for all the Indiana Jones’ and Nintendo Famicons that reached unprecedented heights of success, there are several products and releases that went the way of the Betamax, safari hats, and Banana Frosted Flakes. Speaking of which…
If you were born after 1971, you likely ate cereal for breakfast. And by the time the Eighties rolled around there was no dearth of options to choose from. Kellogg, General Mills, and Post made cold cereal big business in the latter half of the 20th Century, and they always kept one aisle of the supermarket lined with a rainbow’s prism of colors to hypnotically draw the curiosity (and appetites) of the most demanding consumer: the child. Breakfast cereals continue to come and go today, but a look back upon a few of the more obscure flavors and mascots presents equal parts nostalgia and what-the-hell-were-they-thinking ruminations.
Here’s a piece of obscurity: In 1981, Kellogg’s released Banana Frosted Flakes. More amendment than invention, the cereal consisted of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes (“Sugar” appeared in the title of the cereal until nutritional concerns became prominent in the Eighties and the word was dropped), with real bits of banana laced into the flakes. By using arguably the most recognizable mascot in breakfast, Tony the Tiger, Kellogg’s was poised to have a bona fide hit with a fruit-flavored cereal. But by 1984, the cereal was gone, as was the straw farmer’s hat Tony had adopted. It’s easy to assume this cereal failed the kid test; you can call them what you want, but most “fruit” flavored cereals are really corn and sugar delivery systems. The addition of real fruit has rarely succeeded outside of Special K diet cereals, and for those who do appreciate real fruit taste, there isn’t much that can substitute cutting up a fresh banana and putting it in a bowl. One ought to applaud Kellogg’s for taking a chance on an oft-overlooked flavor choice, though a call to Hostess’ Twinkie department might have saved them some effort (kudos if you know what I’m taking about right now).
One component of Kellogg’s marketing that deserves immense praise is their development of mascots. Tony the Tiger leads a motley charge of gnomes, cavemen, and anthropomorphic animals from around the the world. Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Toucan Sam, and Cornelius the Rooster are well known and still used to this day, but a special nod ought to be given to Tusk the Elephant. Essentially a miniature Mr. Snuffleupagus, Tusk the Elephant was the mascot for Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies from 1971 until 1982. Like sports organizations, marketing teams occasionally develop culturally insensitive mascots (like Cocoa Krispies original spokes-charater, Jose the Monkey), and these mascots are discontinued. But the fairly innocuous Tusk seemed to disappear without explanation. Snap, Crackle, and Pop took over in his absence, suggesting perhaps sales were stagnant and more reliable brand ambassadors were needed.
Moving over to General Mills, one of the more fascinating cereals lines, for no other reason than its continued elusiveness, are the “monster cereals,” based on Universal’s classic monster characters. Most people are aware of three: Franken Berry, Boo Berry, and Count Chocula. But there has actually been a total of five monster cereals. In 1974, GM released Fruit Brute – either a lime-flavored cereal with fruit-flavored marshmallows, or a fruit-flavored cereal with lime-flavored marshmallows, depending on who you ask; it’s a little hard to check now as the cereal was discontinued in 1983. Considering the time frame, Fruit Brute could have reasonably fallen under the same plight at Banana Frosted Flakes. Lime-flavored cereal? If you had a choice when you were six between chocolate and lime, which would you have picked, honestly? Another compelling aspect of Fruit Brute was the gap in identity. Count Chocula and Franken Berry were based on classic movie monster adaptations. And you could infer the character of Boo Berry based on the name. But without seeing the box and recognizing a werewolf, Fruit Brute remained confusing, if not banal, and one has to wonder if brand loyalty suffered (I’d have called it Berry-Wolf. You know, instead of were-y-wolf. Okay, you come up with something.)
General Mills launched Yummy Mummy cereal in 1987. It was a frosted fruit-flavored cereal with vanilla marshmallows and came with the tagline, “Fruity Yummy Mummy makes your tummy feel yummy! Heh, heh, heh!” GM has stated Yummy Mummy was never part of the monster cereal line, but a look at the box makes the claim a little hard to swallow (pun intended). Six years after its release, Yummy Mummy was put to rest (yes, also intended).
It’s become apparent an entire blog could be devoted to nothing but cereals of the past forty years (and you would have your hands full). This merely scratches the surface, but ideally paints an accurate if not embryonic picture of Retrobacktive. Please come back for more.