Monsters and Marshmallows: The Allure of Breakfast Cereal Characters

I miss my favorite vampire. No, not Edward Cullen or Bill Compton—I’m in Count Chocula withdrawal. Ever since this chocolaty breakfast cereal became a seasonal specialty at my local supermarket, I’ve spent 11 months per year convincing myself not to purchase a 12-pack online. It’s a somewhat irrational love, isn’t it? Count Chocula has never had a TV series of his own. He exists solely to advertise a product in animated commercials. Somehow, though, he enticed me into his dark, Victorian world of monsters and marshmallows, and I haven’t looked back since. That, my friends, is the magic of marketing.

As is the case with most breakfast cereals whose cartooned mascots loom larger than any printed claims of nutritional value, my feelings about this cherished product and that fanged foreigner, its primary endorser, are intertwined. When I glimpse Count Chocula’s beautiful, brown widow’s peak in the cereal aisle, I feel joyful. The image triggers a multisensory experience: I can hear his low, gravelly voice, see him flourishing his collared cape, feel the crunch of the frosted corn cereal, and taste the sweetness of the marshmallows.

Breakfast cereals and the characters that serve as their mascots are inextricably (and purposefully) linked.  Whether they appear only in two dimensions on the front of cereal boxes, such as Count Chocula or Cap’n Crunch, or boast a day job as a baseball player or fashion doll, it is hard to argue with the fact that these characters hold sway over many young consumers . . . and even their mature older selves. Companies use transmedia storytelling to create an immersive fictional world for children. And it isn’t just for cereal. From the supermarket aisles featuring that colorful imagery, to the spot in front of the TV screen where children watch Saturday morning cartoons over a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles, to the interstitial advertisements for Flintstones Vitamins and Kids Meal toys starring Fred and Barney, to the Flintstones Web games advertised on the cereal box, the media blitz spreads its way around a child’s world like milk surrounding crunchy bits of Count Chocula goodness.