It isn’t easy to be the kind of visionary breakfast cereal company that, Frankenstein-like, dares to sell morning meals to the public by associating them with famous creatures usually depicted in media having freshly risen from the grave or stalking the night covered in blood and gore. But General Mills dared to do so, creating a line of ghoulish favorites in the process.
YouTube channel Toy Galaxy looked back at how these grain monsters ascended, providing a brief history of cereals like Count Chocula and Franken Berry that covers everything from product evolution to kids reporting to doctors with discolored poop.
The cereals date back to 1971 when food companies had figured out how to advertise to kids with cartoon characters and properly pump a breakfast meal with loads of sugar. An advertising company was asked by General Mills to create compelling mascots for the impending launch of new strawberry and chocolate-flavored cereal and copywriter Laura Levine struck monstrous gold, as we’ve written before, with Count Chocula and Franken Berry.
Their visual design was created by a cereal veteran who first drew the Trix Rabbit and another, who worked with Disney and Warner Brothers, and led the studio responsible for the early Peanuts TV specials. After refining the concept for a while longer, commercials began airing that saw Count Chocula and Franken Berry fight over whose cereal tastes better, somehow claiming the cereals were “vitamin charged” in the process.
The cereal was a success, but that success came, at times, with a cost. For example, in 1972, a child was taken to the hospital after “passing pink stools for two days” that, we’re sorry to write, apparently “looked like strawberry ice cream.” After ensuring that he wasn’t bleeding internally, the doctors discovered that the kid had eaten Franken Berry. Testing verified that the cereal was the cause and that undigested food dye was responsible.
In the late ‘80s, as part of a campaign that incorporated the real Universal Monsters into its cereal advertisements, box art featuring Dracula showed the vampire wearing a Star Of David necklace, which, needless to say, wasn’t a great look either.
Undeterred by all of these scandals, General Mills pressed onward with its experiment, eventually unveiling further spooky cereals, like Boo Berry, Fruit Brute, and Yummy Mummy, making their products seasonally available instead of purchasable year round, toying with new flavors, characters, and spin-offs, and venturing into licensing the mascots for other, inedible forms of media.
To this last point: One day, perhaps, we’ll finally get the sexy, brooding Count Chocula streaming series the world deserves.
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