Out of sight, top of mind: Quaker loses the Cap’n to boost sales

Cap'n Crunch will be out of sight, but the new 'Where's the Cap'n?' promotion from Chicago-based Quaker Oats will likely be one of the most visible kid-targeted efforts this year....
January 1, 2000

Cap’n Crunch will be out of sight, but the new ‘Where’s the Cap’n?’ promotion from Chicago-based Quaker Oats will likely be one of the most visible kid-targeted efforts this year.

The biggest promotion ever for the Cap’n Crunch brand, ‘Where’s the Cap’n?’ will revolve around the mysterious disappearance of the blue-suited spokescharacter and a kid-targeted competition to find him. The campaign will kick off later this month and roll out in three waves, each lasting about two months, over the next six months.

The promotion launches the first-ever Cap’n Crunch Web site and offers a free full-length CD-ROM game. An ad campaign in the U.S. includes a total of 16 different TV spots for the general and Hispanic markets (produced by Denver, Colorado-based Celluloid), three spots on Radio Disney, messages on Radio Disney’s earmail and three print ads in kid-targeted publications. Additional support includes three national FSIs, on-line advertising and a PR campaign aimed at kid media. The keystone competition features prizes of US$100 awarded to 10,000 kids across North America for the discovery of the Cap’n’s whereabouts. The promotion will be featured on all Cap’n Crunch brands.

‘Where’s the Cap’n?’ takes its cue from a 1985 promotion of the same name. That effort ‘stands out as one of the biggest points in [Cap'n Crunch's] history as a brand,’ according to Kirsten Hano, VP account director at FCB Worldwide in Chicago, and has remained on the minds of Quaker and the agency ever since. (Through various incarnations, the agency has had a 30-year relationship with Quaker and was on-board for the original ‘Where’s the Cap’n?’ promotion.)

The key to the big-budget successor is to tie in to the brand’s key attributes of ‘fun and adventure,’ says Christine Carter, assistant marketing manager of ready-to-eat cereals at Quaker. With a primary target audience of kids ages five to 12, the brand is known for quarterly on-pack promotions that have been building this image for some time. Like the first promotion, the new ‘Where’s the Cap’n?’ taps into kids’ fascination with mysteries, but this year’s promotion gets a high-tech update with the addition of a Web site and CD-ROM game, developed by Portland, Oregon-based CyberSight. ‘It is abundantly clear that [kids are] spending a lot of time on their computers and playing games. Interactive is just a great way to connect with kids,’ says Carter.

The first wave hits when the Cap’n disappears from all cereal boxes. Three ‘missing Cap’n’ cereal boxes will provide clues and an interactive clue decoder.

At this point, the Cap’n Crunch Web site ( kicks off to release additional clues, including messages from the Cap’n for kids to unscramble and pointers to other locations, both on-line and off, to look for hints. Each kid who visits the site will receive a personal page and a clue collector.

The site will have a console-like interface featuring Sabrina’s Search Diary, a collection of weekly entries on the search for the Cap’n submitted by the lead of live-action TV series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. This component was created to give the site added appeal to girls, says Jeff Rosenfield, CyberSight’s director of strategic marketing. He figures that the site’s on-line games, while designed to draw in both boys and girls, will have more appeal for boys.

The interactive elements are intended to create a sense of community for kids and add depth to the real-world search for the Cap’n. During development, CyberSight brought in kids to observe how they progress through Web sites and found that kids need instant gratification and attainable aspirations to keep them engaged. They also like clicking, sites dominated by images rather than text, and being able to control the interactive experience.

The first wave ends with the discovery of the Cap’n’s whereabouts, leading to the Cap’n’s return in the second wave along with the story of his adventure. A CD-ROM called Cap’n Crunch’s Crunchling Adventure, with an estimated retail value of US$30, allows kids to help the Cap’n in his adventure by playing a good vs. evil game.

The CD-ROM will be free inside double cereal packs and through a mail-in offer on single packs of Cap’n Crunch. The CD-ROM also offers three additional elements: raising and nurturing a new character, running the character through three action games, and launching the character on the Web site to play with other kids’ characters-intended as a safe way for kids to participate in an interactive community. Kids without computers can pop the CD in a regular CD player and hear about the Cap’n’s adventure in a 20-minute recorded tale. While Quaker won’t disclose the number of packages involved in the overall promotion, it claims the CD-ROM will become one of the most widely distributed full-length CD-ROM games in the U.S.

The final wave of the promotion introduces a brand-new, limited-time-only cereal that is the Cap’n’s biggest discovery from his trip. The fruity cereal will be named to reflect the place the Cap’n visited.

It took a fair bit of time and careful coordination to integrate the promo’s many elements. Quaker and FCB began working on the promotion in late 1998. The client and agency identified the need for an interactive component early on, and interactive agency CyberSight was hired early last February (CyberSight is also handling on-line advertising). PR firm Golin/Harris International in Chicago was then brought on-board around April. The team came together for some face-to-face meetings, and Quaker encouraged direct contact among all the parties involved. Quaker’s Carter served as project team leader, while Chris Hall, promotions manager at Quaker, handled the packaging and sweepstakes elements.

For FCB, says Hano, the greatest challenge in developing the advertising strategy was communicating the elements of the complex promo in simple terms. This challenge was overcome by honing in on one key objective of the communication in each wave: getting kids excited about finding the Cap’n, letting kids know about the free CD-ROM that reveals the story of the Cap’n’s adventure, and raising awareness about the limited-time-only cereal.

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