Tony the Tiger (1951-2013) becomes a victim of ethical consumerism.

He’s been around for over 60 years selling one of Kellogg’s classic brands but times have changed and Frosties hasn’t.  With such a high sugar level, 37%, it has become unacceptable as a breakfast cereal for families and a target for campaigners against sugary foods.

Tony the Tiger was born in 1951, the creation of Eugene Kolkey, an Art Director at Leo Burnett (USA). He sketched a character for a contest to become the official mascot of Kellogg’s new breakfast cereal. Kolkey designed a tiger which he named Tony (after an ad man at Leo Burnett – Raymond Anthony Wells). But it was illustrator Martin Provensen who turned the sketch into what has become one of advertising’s oldest and best loved icons. He wasn’t the only cartoon tiger to be a brand icon, Esso adopted one in 1959 with their advertising campaign, “Put a Tiger in Your Tank”.

As the war on obesity progresses forward, it is not the first or the last big brand to become a victim of ethical consumerism and a desire for healthier alternatives.

One of the first was Sunny Delight, which turned out to be less than delightful. In 1998 it had sales of £160m pa and was the 12th best selling grocery product. It’s marketing set out to deceive consumers and make it appear to be a healthy fruit juice – it was even sold in cooler cabinets to keep up the pretence. But 3 years later, when it was revealed it was just 5% fruit juice and the rest water and sugar, sales halved – a loss of £80m. Having lost trust with consumers, it then just went into decline.

The BBC’s Money Programme said it was, “A story of corporate power and consumer triumph, and of a manufacturing giant which has had to come to terms with a new world in which the consumer is increasingly wary and powerful.”

IN 2009 Vitaminwater ads were banned by the ASA because of health claims. The ASA said that the drinks contained nearly a quarter of the recommended daily amount of sugar in 500ml (4.6 g of sugar per 100ml) but the publicity made it likely that consumers would think the products were “healthy”. Just 2 years later it received another ban by the ASA, ”We considered that they would not expect a “nutritious” drink to have the equivalent of five teaspoons of added sugar. “

Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, said cereals like Frosties and Sugar Puffs should be banned as part of the Britain’s battle against growing obesity levels.

Volume sales of Frosties dropped 18.3% for the year ending in October, while value sales slumped 6.6 % to £29 million. Kellogg’s haven’t advertised the brand since 2010.

By contrast, Special K has undergone a recipe change and new pack design in an attempt to reverse flagging sales (sales have fallen 15.1% to £103.5m from 2011 to  2012). The brand will still target women and focus on weight management, backed by a £5m TV campaign. Last year its TV ad was banned by the ASA for claims about low calories.

Of course no one at Kellogg’s can say they didn’t see this coming, back in 2004 Brand Republic reported that sales were declining and Tony was fast becoming an endangered species with a year on year decline of 13%. The MP Debra Shipley and the Consumers’ Association were waging war on high fat, high sugar brands and labeled it as ‘one of the worst offenders’ in its report on cereals.

Kellogg’s tried to position Tony as a sports trainer in one TV ad, suggesting it could be an energy food with the slogan, “Train hard, eat right and earn your stripes”. It didn’t wash and just attracted more criticism and the TV ad (by Leo Burnett) got banned by the ASA. An own goal, one might say.

The ASA ruled against Kellogg’s, who tried to defend it’s position (as you do) and said it must not use the claim “eat right” again in ads for Frosties, because it had a high sugar content and the ad implied the product was healthy because it showed children playing football.

Kellogg’s did try launching a reduced-sugar Frosties variant, but anti-obesity lobbyists slammed the product for its increased levels of salt and the fact it was still high in sugar based on Food Standards Agency measurements.

Next Tony became victim of Ofcom rules banning the use of cartoon characters in ‘unhealthy’ food advertising to children.

Shocking facts about obesity in youth has fuelled the debate about fats and sugars in foods, especially snacks like crisps, consumed by kids. One third of all primary school leavers are either obese or overweight.  Not surprising when a can of cola can contain up to eight teaspoons of sugar, and crisps contain high levels of salt and 25% fat.

As part of the Responsibility Deal, David Cameron has backed a “war on sugar”, commenting that high levels of sugar in food and drink was one of the biggest health threats in the country today. “As someone trying to bring up children without excessive amounts of Coca-Cola, I know how big this challenge is.”

While Frosties seems to be a brand on the way out, rather than try and sell a dead horse (or tiger), Kellogg’s are investing in new brands and have announced the launch of three new cereals, all of which are low in sugar to meet daytime television advertising regulations.

With such a powerful image and heritage, you do wonder why no one at Kellogg’s has not suggested a transfer to another brand. If footballers can do it, why not cartoon characters? It worked for Monkey, that stuffed Roland Rat type animal they use in PG Tip ads, who was originally used for a different brand all together.

  • ChrisJReed

    From Mitch – Director Global Membership at WWF in Singapore:  
    Chris, I have to say I love that you have time to write, but disagree with you on a few points, Chris: Madonna (who is from my home town in Michigan) will definitely raise Smirnoff’s sales, and their image. Agree with what you said about the PRODUCT (i’m a vodka man myself, and am old enough to know Smirnoff is what the drunks used to buy in small bottles to get thru the day). But don’t forget: every year, a NEW batch of ‘new’ drinkers turn of age, and they have NO history on the brand (which you are stuck on) no sense of what “good” vodka tastes like, (or ‘doesn’t taste of, as it were), and ARE (unlike you and me) influenced by price (against Absol, which is my brand, or Grey Goose, which is just French and stupid, what do they French know about vodka, or Stoli, which KNOWS that, as the first real ‘branded’ vodka, they priced themselves out of their own market, because (unlike Absol, which WIDENED its product line, and pushed the fashion connection with its bottle-shape – and vodka is a club drink, not an at-home drink like Bailey’s) they then got lost in the shuffle, and tried to play catch-up with Stoli Lemon, etc. Skyy more effectively copied Absol, distinctive bottle, claimed to have a more “pure” processing that “real vodka drinkers” could taste (or again, rather, NOT taste) and DID capture a solid market share.

    So the ‘low’ end of the market is still there, but like all low ends, wantsto NOT be low end. So like Red Bull, they are trying to raise the sexy
    level on its brand. And I think they’re going to do it. Like Carhartt, if you wait long enough, the ‘working class’ brands can get pushed up to
    be cool with kids. And that’s who they’re looking for. Oh, and that’s who Madonna is looking to (re) capture too! So….. good fit.