16 March 2011

where's the cap'n?

Last week, Kevin "Bank of Kev" McKeever pointed me to a financial article by Jonathan Berr speculating on the abandonment of the "Cap'n Crunch" cereal brand by Pepsi/Quaker Oats. Berr made some astute observations, but by no means stated matter-of-fact that the good Cap'n* was "retiring." That didn't stop media outlets from jumping to conclusions though. In fact, Quaker is possibly gearing up for a new-generation return of their "Where's the Cap'n?" promotion.


I was 9 years-old when the original "Where's the Cap'n?" promotion hit. And it was epic. Well, "epic" in the context of '80s-kid-culture epic. As Mr. Breakfast describes:

In 1985, Cap'n Crunch disappeared from boxes of Cap'n Crunch cereal leaving a question mark and an empty silhouette in his place. The "Where's The Cap'n?" campaign encourage[d] kids to decipher his whereabouts through clues on the back of the box. In December of 1985, it was revealed [that] the Cap'n had been hanging out in the Milky Way [galaxy].

The months-long promotion targeted me and my contemporaries from every direction. In addition to the cereal box exteriors and interiors (via maps, decoder strips, detective badges, etc.), there were television commercials, print ads, an 800-number, a music video... Like I said, epic. It was interactive, immersive, and fun. It was also cynical commercialism at its finest, and my brother, friends and I ate it up.

In the quarter-century since, media in all of its forms has fragmented and specialized; the ability to pull off another successful "Where's the Cap'n?"-like stunt seems highly unlikely. With the exception of tragedies, it seems to me that there are few opportunities anymore for that level of shared experience among kids. Which is kind of sad. Yes, '80s kids' culture left a lot to be desired. But it connected those of us who were a part of it. And it left us a lot (of junk and junkfood) to remember with smiles.

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* For a deconstruction of cereal mascots a la what WATCHMEN did for superheroes, see James Sturm's THE CEREAL KILLINGS.

** Images from Cover Browser.