Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Cereal Review!

It's Earth's Mightiest Heroes ... in breakfast form!

I hope you folks are ready, because over the next two weeks, we are going to be getting utterly hammered by "Age of Ultron" hype. The much ballyhooed "Avengers" sequel will no doubt gross at least $15 bajillion dollars at the box office, but that's really only a portion of the revenue Disney stands to make off the movie. Its REAL financial impact, most certainly, will come from merchandising.

The first "Avengers" movie  made $1.5 billion in ticket sales. The year before, Disney made four times that off Marvel-branded merchandise alone. It's clear that the strategy is no longer make goods to supplement the film, but to make films to supplement the merchandising armada.

With "Age of Ultron," Disney is on an absolute promotional warpath. Take a stroll down virtually ANY aisle at your nearest big box store and you will be assailed by "Avengers" junk at every turn. If you walk down the toy section, you are going to be greeted by a horde of plastic Iron Men and Incredible Hulks. If you amble down the clothing aisle, you're going to see Captain America baby tees and XXL Thor regalia. Waltz down the seasonal supply section, and you will no doubt bear witness to Avengers branded beach towels, plastic cups and and beer koozies. But if you want to see just how entrenched this movie is in our communal consumption experience, you're going to have to march down the grocery store aisle.

Without hyperbole, "Age of Ultron" has tie-ins with dozens of products. There's Avengers Dr. Pepper and Avengers Doritos and Avengers frozen pizza and Avengers Corn Flakes and Avengers potato chips and Avengers ice cream. I didn't see any Avengers pregnancy tests or acne wash, but they just could have been out of stock at the local Target.

Among the more interesting items out this year is a new breakfast cereal from Kellogg's. Featuring Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk on the front of the box, the limited-time only "Age of Ultron" cereal describes itself as a special "hero edition" product. Granted, marketing departments are known to use some abstruse and confounding terminology for the offerings, but that one just doesn't make any damn sense to me. Like, are kids supposed to feel like heroes if they eat it, or are you eating what (fictitious) heroes allegedly eat, or is the very product itself supposed to be emblematic of heroism itself?

From a brand psychology perspective, maybe what they're trying to do is the same thing Wheaties does to people who want to feel athletic or what Special K does for women who want to feel like they're doing something healthy. "Hey kids, if you chow down on this shit, it'll make you like Hawkeye" -- a shameless, yet nonetheless effective, appeal to young boys' insecurity and their constant need for reaffirmation of their masculine identity, perhaps?

As for the packaging, it's fairly unremarkable. On the back of the box, half of the space is used to pimp some kind of convoluted online code redemption thingy. While Thor didn't make the cut for the front, he at least gets prominent placement here. As for the rest of the squad, they're not featured anywhere on the product, front, back, sides, top or bottom. And for a product that literally has the word "Ultron" on it, it's just a little peculiar that the villain isn't featured anywhere at all on the box. 

You do, however, get a fairly facile "Junior Jumble" type puzzle to solve, though. And the best part? You don't even need your Ovaltine decoder ring to figure out the secret message!

OK, OK, so it is a fairly anticlimactic message. And why exactly would the Avengers need to encrypt that message, anyway? I'm pretty sure the sentient android trying to take over the world is well aware that the dethawed World War II mega-soldier and the roided up Golly Green Giant are probably going to try to do something to thwart him. I can only imagine Hitler intercepting a similar message from the Brits and Yanks --  boy, was he ever gobsmacked when he learned they wanted to, and I quote, "stop Hitler."

As something you can actually eat, the cereal is both disappointing and satisfying. Let's start with the disappointing side first. The little bits of cereal and marshmallow are really, really uninspired. In fact, the primary, sugary grain chunks are among the most perplexing foodstuffs I have seen in quite some time. They're not really circular, but they are not really square, either -- it's like the first draft a caveman made of the wheel. If these things are supposed to remind consumers of the iconic Avengers "A," logo, I am afraid the folks at Kellogg's faltered, and hard.

But it's the marshmallows that are really going to make you shake your head. If you're like me, you probably expected the marshmallow pieces to at least sorta resemble the insignia of the superheroes. Like, one would be shaped like Cap's shield, one would be shaped like Mjolnir, so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the pieces themselves are incredibly lazy -- they are just misshapen circles with dye jobs that are kinda-sorta similar to those of the characters. I mean, they could have at least drawn some eyebrows on the green one, and it at least would have somewhat resembled the Hulk's mug.

While the cereal may look about as aesthetically pleasing as a pair of used bowling shoes, it delivers where it counts, though. Basically, it tastes like Corn Pops, only with Lucky Charms adornments sprinkled in the mix. It wasn't until I started chowing down on a bowl that I realized that little combination had never been attempted -- or at least, that I had been oblivious to such science experiments in the past. So yeah, even if it isn't very fun to look at, it least it tastes pretty good, which I think we can all agree is much-preferred to the antithetical scenario

I'm not sure how long this stuff is going to stay on store shelves, but I reckon it can't be for too much longer. It's the kind of instant nostalgia that you just know people ten years from now are going to be fawning all over -- the same way people in their thirties today will spend actual human people money on quarter-century old boxes of "Ghostbusters" and "Batman" cereal, it's pretty much a sure bet that Gen Z kids a good decade or two down the line will joyously reflect on this offering. Then again, by the time today's kindergartners are twenty-somethings, we'll probably be able to download memories of what discontinued foods tasted like directly to our brains through Google Glass or something.

Anyhoo, you know what you're getting here. It's satisfying, although wholly indistinct mass marketing goodness, that'll fill your belly with completely non-nourishing junk, but since it looks cool and tingles the most unrefined portions of your taste buds, you probably won't complain about it probably poisoning your mind and internal organs.

You know, pretty much the exact same thing you can say about "Age of Ultron" as a motion picture, too.

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