Did you know: Cornflakes was originally designed as a sexual suppressant?!

Kellogg’s Cornflakes being sold

For people the world over, a bowl of corn flakes is the go-to breakfast of choice.

But for the majority of those who look forward to their morning bowl, it will come as a surprise that they were invented to help people reduce sexual desires!

This is the story of how public relations can help change a brand and what it stands for.

With the impact of the COVID, this is a classic example of a “Brand Pivot”, and how to make communication relevant again.

John Harvey Kellogg

John Harvey Kellogg, who first created the cereal in the late 19th century, originally intended it to be a ‘healthy, ready-to-eat anti-masturbatory morning meal’, according to Mental Floss.

Mr Kellogg, a physician, was uncomfortable about sex, believing it was unhealthy for the body, mind and soul.

Disease is cured by the body itself, not by doctors or remedies.

John Harvey Kellogg

John Harvey Kellogg (February 26, 1852 – December 14, 1943) was an American medical doctor, nutritionist, inventor, health activist, and businessman. He was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. It combined aspects of a European spa, a hydrotherapy institution, a hospital and a high-class hotel. Kellogg treated both the rich and famous, as well as the poor who could not afford other hospitals.

An old Kellogg advertisement

Kellogg was a major leader in progressive health reform, particularly in the second phase of the clean living movement.He wrote extensively on science and health. His approach to “biologic living” combined scientific knowledge with Adventist beliefs, promoting health reform, temperance and sexual abstinence. His promotion of developing anaphrodisiac foods was based on these beliefs.

Many of the vegetarian foods that Kellogg developed and offered his patients were publicly marketed: Kellogg is best known today for the invention of the breakfast cereal corn flakes, originally intended to be an anaphrodisiac, made by his brother, Will Keith Kellogg. His creation of the modern breakfast cereal changed “the American breakfast landscape forever.”

John Harvey Kellogg developed and marketed a wide variety of vegetarian foods. Many of them were meant to be suitable for an invalid diet, and were intentionally made easy to chew and to digest. Starchy foods such as grains were ground and baked, to promote the conversion of starch into dextrin. Nuts were ground and boiled or steamed.

All fresh meat is eaten in a state of decay. The process may not have proceeded so far that the dull human nose can discover it, but a carrion bird or a carrion fly can smell it from afar.

John Harvey Kellogg

The foods Kellogg developed also tended to be bland. In this, Kellogg followed the teachings of Ellen G. White and Sylvester Graham who recommended a diet of bland foods to minimize excitement, sexual arousal, and masturbation.

An old Kellogg advertisement

Around 1877, John H. Kellogg began experimenting to produce a softer breakfast food, something easy to chew. He developed a dough that was a mixture of wheat, oats, and corn. It was baked at high temperatures for a long period of time, to break down or “dextrinize” starch molecules in the grain. After it cooled, Kellogg broke the bread into crumbs. The cereal was originally marketed under the name “Granula” but this led to legal problems with James Caleb Jackson who already sold a wheat cereal under that name. In 1881, under threat of a lawsuit by Jackson, Kellogg changed the sanitarium cereal’s name to “Granola”. It was used initially by patients at the sanitarium, but slowly began to build up a following among former patients. In 1890, John formed the Sanitas Food Company to develop and market food products.

The Kelloggs are best known for the invention of the famous breakfast cereal corn flakes. The development of the flaked cereal in 1894 has been variously described by those involved: Ella Eaton Kellogg, John Harvey Kellogg, his younger brother Will Keith Kellogg, and other family members. There is considerable disagreement over who was involved in the discovery, and the role that they played. According to some accounts, Ella suggested rolling out the dough into thin sheets, and John developed a set of rollers for the purpose.

According to others, John had the idea in a dream, and used equipment in his wife’s kitchen to do the rolling. It is generally agreed that upon being called out one night, John Kellogg left a batch of wheat-berry dough behind. Rather than throwing it out the next morning, he sent it through the rollers and was surprised to obtain delicate flakes, which could then be baked. Will Kellogg was tasked with figuring out what had happened, and recreating the process reliably. Ella and Will were often at odds, and their versions of the story tend to minimize or deny each other’s involvement, while emphasizing their own part in the discovery. The process that Kellogg had discovered, tempering, was to be a fundamental technique of the flaked cereal industry.

A patent for “Flaked Cereals and Process of Preparing Same” was filed on May 31, 1895, and issued on April 14, 1896 to John Harvey Kellogg as Patent No. 558,393. Significantly, the patent applied to a variety of types of grains, not just to wheat. John Harvey Kellogg was the only person named on the patent. Will later insisted that he, not Ella, had worked with John, and repeatedly asserted that he should have received more credit than he was given for the discovery of the flaked cereal.

Cornflakes Patent

During their first year of production, the Kelloggs sold tens of thousands of pounds of flaked cereal, marketing it as “Granose”. They continued to experiment using rice and corn as well as wheat, and in 1898 released the first batch of Sanitas Toasted Corn Flakes. A modified version with a longer shelf life was released in 1902. By that time, both “Granose Biscuits” and “Granose Flakes” were available.

Will Kellogg continued to develop and market flaked cereal. When he proposed adding sugar to the flakes, John would not agree to the change. So, in 1906, Will started his own company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. This marked the start of a decades-long feud between the brothers. Will’s Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company eventually became the Kellogg Company, while John was denied the right to use the Kellogg name for his cereals.

National Inventors Hall of Fame

John Harvey Kellogg was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for the discovery of tempering and the invention of the first dry flaked breakfast cereal, which “transformed the typical American breakfast”.

Today Kellogg’s has completely pivoted their public relations and communications. This is done in a number of ways, but these are the top few:

1. Listen to your customers. When trying to make a branding change, it’s important to listen to your customers and find out what they think you can improve on. If they think your brand looks too old, then it’s time to make it more modern. Or maybe they think it looks too professional, and they want something more relatable. Pay attention to what customers say about your brand on social media, and survey them as well.

2. Keep the messaging consistent. While style and medium can change to suit customer preference, your message should remain consistent. Develop a well-researched messaging architecture that represents your value and stick with it, even if you change the medium you use to communicate, the language you use to express ideas or the channel you choose to engage your customers.

3. Keep up with your public relations & communications.

Remember the mindset shift you made at the beginning of your pivot. Do not stop marketing. This is especially important as it relates to your advertising campaigns. On paper, it might seem like stopping your PR will cut costs and help your bank account.

But, the cost of not running communicating on the other side of this can be higher than the cost of running them.

Many brands cut back their ad spend during economic slowdowns. During the 2008 recession, ad spend dropped by 13%. But, brands that continue to market their company while others fall off have an opportunity to capitalize on the gap in the market.

History has examples of where this strategy paid off. From Kellogg’s topping its competitor, Post Consumer Brands, during the Great Depression to Pizza Hut and Taco Bell rising above McDonald’s during the 1990-1991 recession, there is proof that keeping your brand in public view can pay off.

You may need to change up your messaging, positioning, or even offerings during a major market shift. But it remains important to keep your advertising going, even if it’s in a new direction.

To develop an effective Public Relations strategy talk to Atharva Marcom.

Atharva Marcom is India’s best public relations firm. Get in touch with Atharva Marcom, to get your ideas and communication to the world – and change it! Write to atharvamarcom@gmail.com

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