We help you digitally pivot your business from the effects of the pandemic. Click here to start.

Top

Your Idea Sucks—But Can It Still Be Successful?

Remember* grape nuts? Definitely one of history’s worst cereals (I mean grape nuts?). But also, possibly the most genius.

In 1944 they launched a campaign to promote breakfast as the most important meal of the day. That’s right. They didn’t promote their cereal or their company. They promoted breakfast. Through radio advertisements and pamphlets at grocery stores, they sold America on the idea that eating breakfast increased productivity (profit).

Grape Nuts Have Always Been as Bland and Awful as They Sound

Cereal had been around for decades. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the same Kellogg of Frosted Flakes and father of the namesake to Kellogg School of Management, introduced the first cold cereal in 1878, and Americans had been eating it pretty happily ever since. But Grape Nuts had ambition. They weren’t just going to be another cereal, waiting patiently on the shelves to be consumed. Nope. They were going to be Cereal. They were going to Breakfast for the whole entire nation. And they knew that to be successful at that, they would have raise cereal’s profile first.

Cereal started as a health food. There was a belief that indigestion was caused by eating too much meat and spices, and that heavy, indulgent foods taken at breakfast led to indigestion and sin. Cereal would keep people healthier and more pure. Kellogg did not start the cereal company—in fact it was his brother—but he had a patient by the name of CW Post who who did.

Post was something of a marketing genius. He took the healthy-tasting, unappealing cereal that of Kellogg, coated it with sugar, and marketed it as a solution to health problems.

So Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day?

The true genius of it all is that for entire swaths of the world’s history, breakfast has not been a thing. Maybe we’ve stumbled on to something new here, and that thousands of years of civilization has been doing it all wrong. Maybe that’s why there is still research promoting it as the most important meal of the day while still others say not really.

See, it’s not really up to you to decide what is a good idea and what isn’t. Like, how did Google Glass flop and Crocs are—cool?? It’s all about story.

The story cereal told resonated with people. First it was adherents of the Clean Living Movement, later it was women busy supporting efforts of the Second World War. And then: kids. Can’t you still name every cereal mascot?

I don’t want to say your idea doesn’t matter, but it almost doesn’t matter how good or bad your idea is. I mean, Shake Weights and Snuggies, right? You can have the best idea in the world but if you can’t communicate to your audience why it matters to them, isn’t it the same as having the worst idea?

*It was only in doing research for this article that I learned Grape Nuts actually still exist.

Thanks to Priceonomics’ How Breakfast Became a Thing and The Atlantic’s The Most Contentious Meal of the Day for informing much of this article.

Anna Ray