Box Vox

packaging as content

March 7, 2012

Trix Cereal X-Ray Pack

About a year ago, we featured some package design by Mark Oliver, Inc. (above, left) that used actual-sized product photography of cereal to cover the outside of some Vita Crunch cereal boxes. Not just a photo of cereal in a bowl with milk, but a continuous, all-over pattern of cereal covering the front, tops and sides of each box. As if the boxes were transparent and we could see the contents inside. (See also: Packaging & What Lies Beneath)

“The client wanted to sell breakfast cereals priced at 99 cents each. The budget was tight and limited to process color. We made the product the hero. We laid it on scanners to record, used 3-D type to grab attention, and created distinctive, fun, colorful boxes that jump from the shelves.”

Later I saw this Trix Cereal packaging and realized that there had been an earlier precedent for this kind of X-ray package design for cereal.

Above: the introductory Trix ad from a 1956 issue of Life Magazine.

These earlier, rabbit-less Trix packages were a revelation to me… modern, in the same way that Jackson Pollack’s “allover” drip paintings were considered modern in  those days…

“Allover painting refers to a canvas covered in paint from edge to edge and from corner to corner, in which each area of the composition is given equal attention and significance. This is a radically different approach from modes of painting that offer specific focal points, such as the sitter’s face in the case of a portrait. With an allover composition, our eyes are invited to wander the canvas from the top to the bottom, following lines, shapes, and colors.”

Allover Painting, Museum of Modern Art

As a kid, I was convinced that I could correctly identify colors on black & white television. Perhaps it was advertising like this that gave me this idea. Today, seeing how these black & white TV commercials, labeled the colors on screen (raspberry red, orange, lemon yellow) reminds me of Jasper Johns’ allover paintings from around the same time.

Below: Jasper Johns’s “Jubillee“ and “False Start” from 1959. (via: Flourishing Mirth)

(More Trix-ray vision, after the fold…)

Some Trix Cereal advertising from this period used illustrations in which the cereal substituted for wide eyes and smiles. (Apropos: the current Kraft Macaroni smile that Bliss was discussing last week.)

Some less happy looking children were also featured in a different series of Trix ads, above. I paired these two ads together because the children’s faces looked decidedly less rapturous than in most cereal advertising. As with the black & white Trix TV commercials, there was a boy version and a girl version. Then I discovered that the same two ads had also been compared in a 2006 book by Katherine Parkin:

Contrasting ads from the same campaigns reveal a great deal about advertisers’ views of gender differences. A 1957 campaign for Trix cereal, for example, had a mother pouring a bowl of cereal for her five-year-old daughter while the header proclaimed, “When a woman’s five, she needs love—and a little applied psychology. Another ad in the campaign appeared with a similarly aged boy sitting, arms crossed, one leg crossed at the knee, with a defiant look on his face. The header for this ad, in sharp contrast to the one featuring a girl, asserted, “Rugged individualist—logic won’t work but Trix will!” Advertisers consistently suggested that girls were dependent and passive, while granting boys a startling degree of independence and individualism.

Katherine J. Parkin
Food Is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America

While Parkin comments on the boy’s “defiant look,” she doesn’t remark on the girl’s strangely catatonic expression. A different analysis, however —(which also notes the food = love equation)— does focus on the 5-year old girl and the meaning of her expression…

As to the little girl’s demeanor; Mom knows Trix will brighten her mood. Perhaps a sounder campaign approach would be for the ad to show the ‘after’ shot? Or both? I’m just saying…

As it is, the girl’s appearance suggests she might be grappling with issues beyond merely breakfast, and perhaps for good reason.

Mom is preparing to modify her daughter’s behavior with fruit-flavored sugar. The ad suggests that the child will ‘fall in love’ with her bowl of Trix.

Problem solved, food equals love…

Happy, happy, happy, of course life has meaning, dear. No, we’re not alone in the universe, don’t be such a silly. Now cheer up and eat your bowl of angst, like a good girl.

To quote poet Marti Stephen, from ‘In The Terrible Act Of Eating,’  “No one will love you as much as the food on your plate.”

Trix and Nothingness, The In Crowd

Another 1957 Trix ad for mothers of girls that would not pass muster today:

The thankfully “habit-forming” ad features a girl using the Trix X-ray box to measure her growth. Note how she cheats with tip toes and slanted yardstick. (via: Found in Mom’s Basement)

Also an Trix ad with a nice, clown-shaped spoon…

(See also: Clown Cereal)

In another ad, the Trix X-ray pack is inserted like an afro pick into the branches of a Trix fruit tree.

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