The Jack on Apple Jacks

It’s an age-old mystery: what’s the best way to sell sugar to kids? From Kool-Aid to Pixy Stix, marketers have tried it all.

Cereal, however, has always hit a unique “sweet spot” in the American conscious. Eating breakfast, after all, is the healthy thing to do, and most cereals are now fortified with an exhaustive list of vitamins. Sure, the top ingredient is still sugar, but so what? We all need a lil’ pick-me-up in the morning, right?

Enter Apple Jacks. Originally called Apple O’s, Apple Jacks was created in the mid-1960s by whiz-kid student William Thilly at MIT, the same school that brought us the World Wide Web, Technicolor, and beloved liberal thinker Noam Chomsky. In awe of Thilly’s brilliant decision to merge the wholesome image of the apple with refined sugar, Battle Creek, Michigan-based Kellogg decided to distribute the cereal nationwide, and the rest – as they say – was history. Sold with the slogan A Bowl a Day Keeps the Bullies Away, it was an instant hit, a rite of childhood almost rivaling McDonald’s french fries or action figures and Barbie dolls.

Despite being flavored with cinnamon and real dried apples and apple juice concentrate, Apple Jacks amazingly taste nothing like apples. In fact, the closest taste comparison I can think of is probably Taco Bell’s cinnamon twists, a cheap churro knockoff that sells for less than a buck. Kellogg even played off of the obvious cognitive dissonance with a mid-1990s advertising campaign that asked how kids could like Apple Jacks when, well, it doesn’t taste anything like apples.

Hmmm… I wonder. Could it maybe be the sugar?

OK, so maybe Apple Jacks doesn’t taste like apples, but you’d think at least it would have the decency to resemble a set a jacks or something. Nope – the O-shaped orange and green cereal looks exactly like a bowl of Fruit Loops, minus a few colors. Legend has it name was changed from Apple O’s to Apple Jacks by an ad exec that was “inspired” by applejacks, an old American liquor made from apples (a bit Mad Men-esque, wouldn’t you say?).

Whether that’s true or not, the name change stuck. In an unexpected fit of logic in 2003, Kellogg tried changing the shape of the green O’s to jack-shaped X’s, only to quickly revert back to the friendly O’s in the face of popular demand. For better or worse, it seemed the Apple Jacks America had come to know and love was here to stay.

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