Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with Instant Bananas (1965)
I’d written once before about this particular “Droste-effect” package, but since then I’ve discovered enough ‘new’ material to justify a more in-depth post.
The Hake’s website tells us that the carton was part of the Robert M. Overstreet collection and that it exceeded its auction estimate of $100–200 and sold for $309.92.
I’m not sure whether the Droste-effect feature added to its monetary value as a collectible artifact. As a product, it’s generally considered a product failure, so the surviving boxes must be relatively rare.
This is as close to owning a Corn Flakes with instant Bananas box as I’ll ever get. The image of the banana pouring the cereal makes this one of the coolest boxes ever made. Even though it’s just a piece of the box, there’s still enough of the banana design to make it worthwhile.
Yet, as fatalistic as he felt in 2010, he might have had a chance of acquiring such a box, just three years later at the Hake’s Robert M. Overstreet collection auction. (And other intact examples also come up for action, occasionally.)
More about the short-lived product and its now sought-after packaging, after the fold…
Someone sold this box on eBay in 2010.
“Pronto” as Jimmy Durante
I’ve gradually come to realize that “Pronto,” the anthropomorphic banana mascot for this product, was meant to remind consumers of Jimmy Durante.
The same Jimmy Durante, who supposedly used “Lady, that’s not a banana, that’s my nose!” as a catch-phrase. (Although I can find no video evidence of this.)
And who frequently sang “Yes, We Have no Bananas” on his 1950s variety show, The Jimmy Durante Show.
…Kellogg signed Jimmy Durante to launch Corn Flakes and Instant Bananas with an update of one of his standard songs. Seated at the piano, the old vaudevillian belted out, “Yes we now have bananas…” Sales were brisk for a few months, then dropped like a rock…
… In 1966, Kellogg pulled the plug on Corn Flakes and Instant Bananas. “We tested the market carefully, we tried, we failed, and we’re getting out of the market.” …Without informing the star of they decision, Kellogg decided to move Durante over from Instant Bananas to Kellogg’s main line, Corn Flakes. “Everything was kept quiet until Carl Hixon [a Burnett writer] and myself went to New York to shoot him in a couple of commercials for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes,“ recalled commercial director Rudy Behlmer. “Suddenly he looks at the [story] boards and he says, ‘Where are da bananas?’ and we said, ‘Well, Jimmy… this is without bananas,’ and he said, ‘No bananas, no Durante.’”
Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal
Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford, 1995
I like the “No bananas, no Durante” story, but it ends with the implication that Durante refused to make commercials for regular Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (without instant bananas.)
The fact is, if you search online for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercials with Jimmy Durante, regular corn flakes commercials is all that you find. I’ve read that Durante made 2 commercials for Corn Flakes with Instant Bananas. Not finding any evidence of this online, makes you wonder: is the evidence being suppressed?
The test-marketing campaign was pretty extensive. I found the newspaper ad above on Newspapers.com, but I hadn’t realized that it was a color ad until I read this:
… loved a full-page color newspaper ad for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with Instant Bananas featuring Jimmy Durante so much that to this day it’s framed and hanging on my kitchen wall… from 1966
Stolf’s Blog, 2011
I emailed Stolf (John Astolfi) hoping for a color picture, but he had moved and the ad was not hanging in the new kitchen. He had the very good idea of checking on Worthpoint, however, which is where I found the picture on the right.
Full page, four-color newspaper ads
Kellogg’s has gone full swing with promoting its freeze-dried fruits and corn flakes packages. The firm has taken full page, four-color ads in leading newspapers published in test markets…
The four color ads feature an all-time favorite, Jimmy Durante, holding a package of the new product — the allusion to the show business expression, “second banana,” is here quite obvious, Mr. Durante playing second banana to the product.
The quality of the product is then described at length, with such blurbs as: “The same deep, crisp corn flavor you’ve always enjoyed in Kellogg’s Corn Flakes — plus the convenience of having “just ripe” bananas ready-sliced and nestling in the flakes to add a special flavor all their own,” or “In a matter of seconds your bowl of cereal is ready to enjoy with real tasty slices of banana.”
Another factor, featured in the ad, on the reproduction of Kellogg’s package, is the fact that the firm uses “Pronto” bananas, manufactured by a firm which has obtained recognition among the consumers for the quality of its fruits.
Kellogg’s Enters Freeze-Dried Food Race With Flakes and Bananas
Quick Frozen Foods, 1965
I also found the promotional folder below (selling the product concept to grocers) on Worthpoint.
Food Processing magazine published the optimistic new product announcement (on the right) in 1965.
And yet the product was ultimately shelved.
Freeze-Dried Banana Peel Slip-Up
It was one of the most massive “test market” flops of the decade.
When Kellogg introduced the first cereal with freeze-dried fruit on the market in mid-1964, it appeared to be the first genuinely different product in the glutted breakfast cereal market in a long time. But the company’s faith in the product, backed by hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars, was not justified.
Some clues to the extent of the failure were given at a recent Supermarket Institute meeting in Chicago where retailers raked raw grocery manufacturers over their new product marketing tactics and complained of being loaded with new products that are not adequately tested. One of the most outspoken was I. J. Salkin, of the 11-store Pick-N-Save chain in Chicago. He castigated Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with Instant Bananas as “cardboard disks in a box.”
“We’ve done without fruit in in cereal for centuries,” he declared. “Why do we need them now in such numbers?”
Freeze-dried market: Flash-in-the-pan?
Printer’s Ink, 1966
I found this picture on Worthpoint of a Corn Flakes with Instant Bananas shipping carton. (It was from a 2016 eBay auction.)
The Jimmy Durante (Droste) Effect
The thing about Presto (the anthropomorphic banana mascot) resembling Jimmy Durante, is that when Durante holds the package, it’s like adding another recursive iteration. (Durante’s holds a box — with Pronto holding a box — with a smaller Pronto holding a smaller box, etc.)
If Feliks Konczakowski were to make one of his Droste-effect animate GIFs of this pack, I suppose he might need to include a step, sliding Pronto’s banana peel hand aside enough to reveal the whole box.
Or one could alternate infinitely between “Pronto” and Jimmy Durante.
If Durante strikes you as an odd choice of spokesman for this 1960s children’s cereal, I tend to agree. I suppose that parents purchasing their kid’s cereal, however, would have been familiar with his 1950s TV variety show. And, of course, he was never the problem.
And what’s more, he’s actually pretty recursive, in his own right.