Two things are happening this week: those of us with kids are sending them back to school, and General Mills is introducing a new variety of Wheaties cereal called Wheaties Fuel, aimed at men.
What do those two things have to do with one another?
Ever since the 1930s, the front of the Wheaties box has featured a parade of notable athletes, from Lou Gehrig to Jesse Owens to Mary Lou Retton to Michael Jordan. Over the decades, the Breakfast of Champions has exclusively celebrated achievement on the baseball diamond or in the stadium.
But given that Wheaties sales have been slipping (they've declined 14 percent over the past year), here's what I wonder: could Wheaties as a brand be reinvigorated if those bright orange boxes started celebrating achievements of the brain, as well as the body? Would parents feel better about buying a breakfast cereal that inspired their children to become rocket scientists, disease-battling chemists, life-saving biomedical engineers, or billionaire software designers?
And could we use the Internet and Twitter to persuade General Mills to give this a try?
Here's what I'm thinking:
Wheaties, invented in 1922, occupy a significant spot in American culture. Accomplishing something meaningful in the world of sports, we all know, is likely to land you on the front of the Wheaties box.
It is of course important to encourage our kids to participate in sports. But the career goal of making a living as a professional athlete is statistically improbable for most of them. Why not present them with other kinds of champions as role models?
I'd like to see a Wheaties box featuring Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (who also happened to be an astrophysicist and Stanford PhD); Internet pioneers Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf; the great primatologist Jane Goodall; cognitive scientist Steven Pinker; Regina Benjamin, a physician who works in rural Alabama (and who last year won a MacArthur "genius" grant); Tesla Motors engineer JB Straubel; Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus; robotics pioneer and entrepreneur Helen Greiner; Herbert Boyer, who co-founded Genentech and helped bring the first biotech drug to market; Dean Kamen, a prolific inventor of medical devices and technologies for the developing world (not to mention the Segway scooter); or Kim Ung-young, a Korean who has the highest recorded IQ of any living person.
And what about younger smarties, like the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the Intel Science Talent Search, or the Lemelson-MIT Prize, or the top student teams in the FIRST Robotics Competition or the Global Green Challenge?
The back of these boxes might explain a little bit about the accomplishments of the person (or people) featured on the front.
Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers, the founders of the FIRST Robotics Competition, like to talk about "changing the culture" of this country, so that we honor achievements in science, engineering, and technology as often as we honor achievements in sports.
Why not start in the cereal aisle?
Rather than simply launching a brand extension like Wheaties Fuel, I'm suggesting that Wheaties could reach an entirely new customer base: kids who enjoy intellectual challenges as much as sports -- and parents who want to get their kids thinking about doing something for a living other than dunking a basketball.
Are you with me? If so, here are a couple things you can do:
- Post a comment below in support of the idea. Perhaps you'll mention an intellectual champion or two you'd like to see on the front of a Wheaties box.
- Share your support of this idea on Twitter, along with a link to this blog post... and use the tag #wheaties in your tweet.
- Spread the idea any other way you can think of.
- Send General Mills an e-mail, perhaps with a link to this blog post (let's dub this a "Product Issue.")
And if you disagree with me, feel free to post a comment about that too.
If we succeed with this project, perhaps next we can persuade a certain theme park operator to start awarding free trips to Nobel Prize winners, not just athletes: "Professor Shimomura: You've just won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. What are you going to do next?"
"I'm going to Disney World!"