The Decline of Wheaties, The Phantom Menace, and the Black Eyed Peas
I know this is one of those things that I shouldn’t care about, but I feel vindicated since I’ve heard that the sales of Wheaties cereal have been plummeting.
I never liked Wheaties. The flakes weren’t that tasty when they were dry, and they clumped together in a poopy way when they got soggy, and the syrupy milk tasted funny. Since you had to eat them quickly before they got disgusting, the Breakfast of Champions should have been called the Breakfast of Fast Eaters.
I think it’s finally okay to say that Wheaties is not a good cereal (and never has been). I have gone back to many childhood cereals in my time as a middle-aged adult. I still enjoy the occasional Crunch Berries and the every once in a while Rice Krispies. But I have never gone back to Wheaties.
Wheaties never should have been popular in the first place, and its success just proves the power of marketing. Whoever convinced Muhammed Ali and Bruce Jenner (and numerous other famous athletes) to allow Wheaties to use their images for almost no money was a genius in an Arianna Huffington kind of way. That simple sports theme made Wheaties last for generations longer than it should have.
Wheaties was popular for the same reason Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was popular. People liked them because they were told they were supposed to like them. If you stood outside a movie theater line in 1999 and proclaimed, “Phanton Menace sucks!” you would have gotten jumped by some overweight dude in a Jar Jar Binks costume.
When I declared in 1975 that Wheaties stink (“stinks” was the 1970s equivalent of “sucks”), I was called a (something that rhymes with) “wussy” and given a Raggedy Ann doll to play with. I learned then to eat my Wheaties quietly.
In 2012 if you proclaim, “Phantom Menace sucks!” at a comic convention (the closest thing you can get to Star Wars movie theater line today), everybody agrees, even the formerly overweight guy who burned his Jar Jar Binks costume in 2005.
When something is supposed to be good but sucks, it takes time for certain fans to reach the right conclusion. You can’t just shove it in their faces. Ten years from now people will realize that “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas is a truly wretched song, but if you proclaim it too loudly today, fans will get defensive and double down, and you might get into a fight over it.
Wheaties had a good run, better than it deserved. The same goes for Star Wars: Episodes 1-3 and the Black Eyed Peas. But a good run built on marketing rather than substance should never happen in the first place.