"What about cereal?" The seemingly innocuous and inconsequential question changed pop culture forever when someone posed to television executives back sometime in the middle-to-late 1960s. At the time, TV execs were at a loss about how to crank up revenues during Saturday Morning Television cartoons.
Cereal did its part to bring money into everyone's coffers, big time.
The great cartoons of the late 1960s through the early 1980s were -- for the most part -- incredibly engaging entertainment for young persons, millions of them, who sat glued to the television from 8 am to around 1 pm every sixth day of the week.
All of these engaging television programs had bills to pay. Television is more about advertising than entertainment, so someone needs to find the right products to advertise. Two products generated the most revenue for the grand run of Saturday morning television: toys and cereal. And pay they did. By the mid-1970s, the three networks were generating millions upon millions of advertising revenue per week. The sponsors did mighty well, too.
The cereal Alpha Bits produced some of the simple, most fun, and highly memorable commercials of the era.
Beware the Monsters
"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you, yourself, do not become a monster... for...." There is no reason even to complete the famous Friedrich W. Nietzsche quote. The monsters in the Alpha Bits commercials never had a chance. Oh, they may get close to grabbing one of those little kids in the commercials, but the short chapter play ends the same way. The kid dressed in the non sequitur aviator costume spells the monster's name out with the cereal letters, eats the words, and the monster goes away.
Simplicity works. Always.
Alpha Bits, one of many kinds of cereal made by Post, had a decent gimmick. The letters of the alphabet comprised both the cereal and the marketing gimmick. Perhaps during the very early days of the cereal, the odd educational side of "wordy" cereal may have proven appealing to parents. The trouble with Alpha Bits cereal is the bland taste. In a world of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles, the blasé taste of Alpha Bits falls flat.
If eating Alpha Bits served a mission, well, that changes everything, creates a marketing idea, and defines a nice piece of Generation X childhood-oriented pop culture.
Spelling out words with Alpha Bits cereal would do far more than assist a child in learning basic comprehension. Doing so could save a youngster from a horrible death.
Welcome the Monsters
The villains in the old Alpha Bits cereal were classic monsters. The monsters sneaking up behind the children were often an homage to the classic Universal monsters of the 1930s and 1940s. A few 1950's sci-fi robots and aliens found their way into the commercials as well.
These monsters' presence in wildly successful commercials is an overlooked highlight reflecting the enduring popularity of these creatures in the 1970s. To be sure, classic monsters were on their way out as far as pop culture relevance was concerned. The monster boom and fad of the 1950s and 1960s -- sparked by the release of the old "unwanted" films to television -- was fading away. The TV horror host era would fade with it in only a few years, although a few outliers remained.
Monsters did have enough appeal and recognition to appeal to a large enough segment of children viewers that their presence would be akin to an obtuse celebrity endorsement. Ironically, as classic monsters' popularity was on the decline, these creatures' presence in the commercials gave new life to a rather dull cereal.
Heartfelt & Scary Fun
The key to the Alpha Bits commercials' success is they were absolutely fun, but the monsters never ceased to be scary. Be it Dracula, the Wolfman, a Witch, a Swamp Monster, or crazed Robot; the malevolent creatures appeared frightening and not played for laughs. Those were the "real" monsters from the horror movies sneaking around on those commercials -- monsters with malevolent intentions.
Monsters in commercials -- be the commercials geared towards kids or adults -- slowly became buffoonish. The sad reason here is classic movie monsters lost a lot of their ability to scare by the 1970s. Dracula and Frankenstein often served as comic relief in many commercials. And a number of those commercials were really great. Alpha Bits stayed away from silliness and kept the monsters menacing. Imagine what would have happened had the kids not spelled out the monsters' names? Curtains for sure.
Despite the odd sense of seriousness to the kids' dilemmas, those Alpha Bits commercials were memorable and fun. The creative minds behind these commercials are not exactly going to get the due they deserve, a shame to be sure. The ad campaign was a brilliant -- and wildly successful -- one.
Those old Alpha Bits commercials live on via the internet and in the hearts of us aging Generation X'ers who fondly remember them as part of a childhood experience from long ago, an experience never to be recreated.