Cereal is great. You throw some milk on it, and you’ve got a tasty and relatively nutritious breakfast.
Theoretically, cereals–at least the basic, unadorned ones–should be relatively universal. There’s not much about them that predisposes them to any particular demographic or psychographic group. Apart from food allergies or intolerances, basically anyone can eat cereal.
However, the companies creating these cereals realize that “everyone” isn’t a feasible target market, so they intentionally narrow and focus their audiences. While this might seem counterintuitive, this actually gives them the ability to craft a strong, specific message that really resonates with a particular audience, rather than presenting a vague, wishy-washy message to everyone in the world.
Wheaties (wheat and bran flakes from General Mills) and Special K (wheat and rice flakes from Kellogg’s) are two great examples. They’re very similar products, yet their positioning and branding are quite different.
The Wheaties brand has long focused on sports fans as its primary target market, with its tradition of putting athletes on the cereal box and its famous “Breakfast of Champions” tagline. While it’s unlikely many athletes actually eat Wheaties regularly, they’ve successfully built a cultural institution around the implied notion that eating this particular wheat and bran flake will provide you with increased athletic prowess. While many of the athletes featured on the boxes have been female (although too few, many would argue), the brand seems obviously oriented toward a male audience with bold colors, aggressive typography, etc.
On the contrary, Special K marketing is clearly directed at women, with soft curves, soothing typography, lots of pinks and purples, and aspirational images of slender women in dresses, swimsuits, etc. They’ve dominated the market by positioning it as a “diet cereal for women,” coming in second only to the seemingly unconquerable Cheerios.
What’s the difference? Technically, almost none. From a nutritional perspective, there’s little actual difference between Special K and Wheaties. However, both brands have captured the public’s imagination and fascination through clear positioning and strong visual execution of their brand.
Had they given in to their natural instinct to go generic and appeal to everyone (“Try new Kellogg’s Rice Flakes!”), they would have lost everyone and failed to dominate the market. By significantly narrowing their focus to a fractional subset of their audience, they were able to create successful, engaging brands.