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Copywriters: Lessons to be learned from cereal makers

For all of us copywriters and wannabe copywriters out there, there are lessons to be learned from companies that make and sell breakfast cereal. The entire cereal industry, really, was built on cheap combinations of pressed, caked, soaked, and broken grains. Early “breakfast food,” i.e., cereal products like rolled oats and corn flakes, were inconvenient (some required overnight soaking just to soften them enough to eat them) and unpopular.

Enter John Kellogg and Charles Post. They popularized cereals as health and fitness food. Admittedly, the earliest cereal concoctions and the best present-day cereals were/are less sugary and filled with fiber with some legitimate health benefits.

Then, oh, back in the 1940s and ’50s, various cereals began to take on lots of sugar, then corn syrup (corn based sugar), and the days of cereal as healthy food really began to end. But not really. At that point, and right up to the present, copywriters stepped in and did/do such a masterful job of “marketing” that most people not only think all those cereals out there are healthy, but even view them as a useful weight loss product.

If you doubt me, just walk down the double-aisle cereal section in your local grocery and read some ingredients on the boxes. The most masterful things copywriters created to sell cereal as “healthy” were 1) disguise “sugar” as an ingredient, and, 2) find terminology that encourages people to eat cereals with even MORE sugar than those cereals in past years. The “secrets” to this dual blast of sugar are these two terms or something similar found in most cereals — “corn syrup” and “clusters.” I can’t begin to guess the millions of consumers who think “corn syrup” is somehow different from or healthier than “sugar,” and “oat clusters” even “yogurty clusters” are deemed so much better than “sugar clumps” would be.

What lessons can copywriters learn, then, from cereal makers/sellers? Perhaps something like this: Turn a negative into a positive “feature,” and be sure you push that feature as a great “benefit.” It’s not “sugar,” it’s a “cluster”; and I’ll have my clusters “yogurty,” if you will, please!