Cereal is a crowded marketplace. You don't need us to tell you that. Just go to your local supermarket and you'll see a zillion varieties of Cheerios and Chex, an armada of healthy, granola-based options, branded boxes intended to tap into your affinity for Superman or Star Wars—and, of course, the sugary cereals of your youth, which fill the shelves, adorned as they are with the faces of Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, the Trix Rabbit, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, and the only mascot who identifies himself by rank, Cap'n Crunch.
With so much competition all trying to convince children (and their parents) to pick this crispy morning confection of that that one, carving out a niche of one's own in the cereal space is something that all companies ought to be keeping an eye on. And the Cap'n has determined who his crew should be going forward: not just children, but grown-ass men in their twenties and thirties who enjoy a nice bowl of Cap'n Crunch in the middle of the night, or as the dinner that they never really learned how to cook for themselves.
"The category is facing some headwinds, so we took a look at who our true brand lovers are, and that consumption information helped us realize that millennial males are some of our most prevalent consumers, who really love the brand and really love to talk about their love of it," explains Jessica Spaulding, Quaker's Ready-to-Eat Cereal Marketing Director, who oversees the Cap'n Crunch brand. "Millennial males are a pretty untapped audience within cereal, so we realized that that paired nicely. We knew that Cap’n Crunch was uniquely suited to reach those consumers. They’re the audience that’s already consuming our cereal. We have a strong relationship with millennial males already, but we haven’t been talking to them directly."
That's something that's changing now, though, as Cap'n Crunch is in the midst of a campaign to reach out directly to that audience of millennial male cereal enthusiasts and engage them with content that speaks to the interests they possess that go beyond cereal.
To that end, the brand is going all-in on those dudes. They've got in-person experiences, designer apparel and accessories, limited edition cereal that could create a breakfast-obsessed counterpart to sneakerheads, and a comedy project in partnership with Funny Or Die led by Ben Schwartz, which launches on Thursday.
The fashion part of the campaign is a partnership with KITH, the New York streetwear brand founded in 2011 by Ronnie Fieg which makes footwear, jackets, customized T-shirts in collaboration with Nike, and more. And the partnership between KITH and Cap'n Crunch goes deep. It features a whole range of apparel and accessories—hoodies, tees, robes, snapbacks, keychains, slippers, boxers, and more. (Most of it sold out fast.) That collaboration extends beyond just fashion, too. Cap'n KITH, as the partnership is billed, saw pop-up shops in both New York and Miami, selling a month's worth of custom Cap'n Crunch cereal mixes as well as the Cap'n KITH limited edition run of cereal (which sells for $20 a box, until all 500 are sold out).
If that all sounds like a surprisingly deep collaboration for a major cereal brand and a hip, hotshot NYC streetwear brand, well, that's due in part to Fieg's enthusiasm for the idea.
"I've loved Cap'n Crunch since I was a kid, so being able to work with them in this capacity is a dream come true," Fieg explains. "The organic passion I have for their brand is something the Cap'n team really resonated with, and I believe is why they allowed us to take this project as far as we did. They, like me, want to push the envelope and offer fans something completely unique. I am very proud of the work we've been able to put together."
The partnership started with Cap'n KITH cereal—a blend of original Cap'n Crunch, Chocolaty Crunch, and mini-marshmallow bites—but went well beyond that to become a full experience. "We started with the bigger picture of what memory we wanted to create for consumers," Fieg says, "From there, the opportunities go as far as you are willing to take them."
KITH and Ronnie Fieg aren't the only brand partnering with the Cap'n, of course. Cap'n Crunch's creative component is a webseries, created by Ben Schwartz and starring Schwartz with Jurassic World and Orange is the New Black star Lauren Lapkus, called "The Earliest Show."
Cap'n Crunch approached Funny Or Die back in December of 2015, but with some stipulations that made the partnership unique. They wanted to work with talent Funny Or Die was connected to, but they wanted that collaboration to be authentic to both brands—and to the talent that appeared in the content they created. "We set out to create something special, but we really wanted to create it together, and we wanted to find the right talent to help us create it," Spaulding says. The initial brief came out of Quaker's insight that millennial males enjoyed Cap'n Crunch as a late night snack, which the Funny Or Die creative team used as a launching point.
"It was the comedy rule of 'if that, then what' to brainstorm a fun content idea that could help kick off this niche brand marketing focus," Chris Bruss, Funny Or Die's President of Digital, explains. "Here we have something that you would normally associate with morning—breakfast cereal—but instead it's being consumed in the middle of the night. What else could you move from morning to the middle of the night and reach an entirely new audience? And that's where the idea for 'a morning show, but in the middle of the night' came from."
On "The Earliest Show," Schwartz and Lapkus play talk show hosts with a frenetic energy that seems entirely appropriate for anybody who's seen either of them in, say, Parks & Recreation or House of Lies or Jurassic World. Schwartz was brought on first, as the Funny Or Die team had a long relationship with him (and Spaulding was a fan), and he recruited Lapkus quickly as his co-host.
"He came on board and took our very simple 'bones' of a show, and added this really amazing comedic element—that, in the first episode, the male host's girlfriend dumps him on live TV, and in the subsequent five episodes, we see him go through the five stages of grief," Bruss recalls. "To their credit, Cap'n Crunch got fully on board with this evolution of our original idea—then, not only did they end up getting a creative concept that authentically reflected the talent, but Ben also wrote and directed the series. If you'd asked me a year ago about working with a brand under this sort of creative execution process, I probably would have told you it wasn't a good idea—too many variables and too many opportunities to butt heads—but it's really been a tremendous experience."
For Schwartz, the process of working with Cap'n Crunch has been something unique to his career. While he's a familiar face in front of the camera, he's also been involved in a number of short films and other projects as a writer and director, and as a creative person, he was surprised by how empowered he was to just take the original creative brief in a unique direction.
"I threw up a big ol' curveball, and they were so game to play with my brain, which was amazing," Schwartz says. "When I pitched it, they had ideas of their own for how to make it special, and it was a treat, because many times in the past, when this happens, it's like, 'No, no, no, no . . .' But this was exciting, because they allowed me to kind of go crazy, and it's worked. I don't think I've ever seen anybody do something quite like this before. I'm pretty good about staying off of things I'm not quite certain about, but this one—I was totally game for it."
There's an obvious synergy here—the exact market that Cap'n Crunch is trying to reach is the group that tends to respond to Schwartz's brand of comedy, and who usually enjoys the sort of thing that he makes—but it's nonetheless rare for a brand to place so much creative trust in the hands of an outsider. That pays off—in the first episode of "The Earliest Show," Cap'n Crunch appears only as the sponsor for a brief segment, an organic product drop that makes sense for the morning show format—and it also shows why Schwartz, like Fieg, was the right sort of partner for a brand trying to reach an audience with a disposable income and an enthusiasm for cereal. That's a demographic that can smell a fake, and it's something that Schwartz was thrilled to get to do.
"When someone is like, 'We're going to build this car together, and then we're going to let you drive it,' that's one of the most exciting things I've heard as someone who likes to create and direct things," he says. "That's a big reason why this has been so amazing."