Noticed changes in how your cereal is advertised? Blame millennials

What you're eating for breakfast, and whether you're eating breakfast at all, might suggest how old you are. Millenials don't eat breakfast the way previous generations have, and that's changing how breakfast is advertised.

As younger adults abandon breakfast cereal, advertisers shift their approach to selling it

Cereal isn't just for breakfast any longer, and advertising is reflecting that. (David Duprey/Associated Press)

Have you noticed a change in the way breakfast cereal is advertised? If so, you can probably blame — or credit, depending on your point of view — a millennial.

It turns out the millennial generation isn't consuming cereal the way their parents did, and that's reshaping the way cereal is marketed.

Take for instance an ad from October of this year, when the Blue Jays were still vying for a spot in the playoffs.

In it, we see two young men watching a game while snacking on cereal with Frosted Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger. Their friend Phil is locked outside, because his attitude is jinxing the team. As Tony says, Phil's attitude is at "Grrrr," but he's got to get to "Grrrreat!"

It's a cinch that Frosted Flakes would never have been advertised this way a generation ago. Not only does the ad feature adults eating the sugary cereal, but they're snacking on it late in the day. The reason it's not morning is because millennials are in too much of a hurry to prepare breakfast.

Which leads to places like London's Cereal Killer Cafe, which opened in late 2014 in a trendy area of East End London. It serves over 100 different brands of cereal, and encourages custom mixing to create "cereal cocktails."

On its website, the cafe promises "the real sugar rush feeling you had when you were a kid" and encourages customers to "visit us for breakfast, lunch or dinner."

But when millennials do want cereal for breakfast, they'd like to think it's healthy.

In an ad for General Mills, maker of Trix, we see cereal being promoted by a real rabbit instead of a cartoon character. And the rabbit talks about how they use "real stuff" in their cereals.

Of course, being diversity-loving folk, millennials also want cereal brands that share their sense of social justice. So we also have social media campaigns that reflect a wide range of beliefs and opinions, like Lucky Charms' "Lucky To Be Me" initiative.

While millennials want their breakfast to be fast, healthy and socially-conscious, they seem to have fewer qualms about eating sugary cereals as snacks.

And since they're drawn to nostalgia more than previous generations, some brands are positioning cereal as the snack that reminds millennials of their childhood.

In another ad for Lucky Charms, we see young adults snacking on those marshmallow bits around a campfire, until a cuddly sasquatch unexpectedly joins them.

The focus on childhood nostalgia and snacking received another push in October of this year, as General Mills announced two new Girl Guide Cookie-flavoured cereals — Caramel Crunch and Thin Mints.

Froot Loops got in on the game in an ad with young parents reliving their childhood by snacking on the "follow your nose" cereal, while playing a vintage video game.

Since millennials aren't much into cereal as a daily breakfast, the goal is to make them feel nostalgic about their childhood love for cereal. That way, they will snack on it — and might introduce it to their kids.

Perhaps the kids will find cereal for breakfast more appealing than their parents did.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.


Bruce began his career writing radio commercials for stations in Red Deer, Calgary and Toronto. Then in-house at a national department store, and then ad agencies with campaigns for major national and regional clients. For the past couple of decades, he's been a freelance creative director and copywriter for agencies in Calgary and Victoria. He began his weekly Ad Guy columns on CBC Radio in 2003.