Some mistakes in advertising are pretty obvious, and probably due to the product owner or agency not knowing any better or taking a fat chance. But there are cases of carelessness that you would not expect from large and prestigious advertising agencies. In the case of Kellogg, the ad agency for the advertising campaign for their Frosted Mini-Wheats® Cereal, Leo Burnett, was rather careless about their tagline, “Feed Your Inner Kidult” and the made-up word “kidult”. The problem is that “kidult” has already been used, and in a way that is the diametric opposite of the happy-sweetie-kiddie-housie-family way that the term is used in the ads.  So their tactic to get attention by introducing something new, failed. I hate to imagine they knew about the previous use of this term, and went ahead with it in any case.

Check your connotations

Beauty product manufacturers have to invent new words and scientific sounding names to give value to the stuff they put into their creams, lotions and potions. I sometimes even find the garbage they spout amusing, because I know it’s all made up. Like other combination words resulting from name-meshing, like “Brangelina”, “Bennifer” and “TomKat” the whole is not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts  – it does not make a great new word, and it messes up the meanings of the words it is made up of.

Sometimes, these words are actually mistakes or gaffes that show that the person doesn’t know the one word from the other. But in the case of breakfast cereal, it’s not some high-end beauty product – it’s just cereal with sugar added to it. So, probably lacking any other way to justify the adding of sugar to it, and to make the product more exciting, or as they would have it, “fun”, the agency came up with combining  “kid” and “adult”, to make the horrible combination or portmanteau word, “kidult”.  The tagline is “Sweet for the kid in you, wheat for the adult”. This subconsciously reinforces the acceptability or normality of children’s craving for sugar, which is not good.


Originally, British actor and director Noel Clarke came up with the term “kidult” for his film Kidulthood, way back in 2006. It was part of a trilogy of films – the others being Adulthood (2008) and Brotherhood (2016).  The term is not used in a sweet, friendly manner. It means a lifestyle in which teens are forced by circumstance into adulthood and the results are not pretty. The majority of the characters in the film behave in a violent and lawless manner and are portrayed as being reckless and antisocial young people who commit crimes such as petty theft and serious violence.

In its review, the Daily Mirror described it as being “as potent as a shot of vodka [ha-ha, not cereal!] before breakfast – a harrowing, uncompromisingly bleak but thoughtful look at the anguish of being young and poor in Britain”. So there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Kellogg and Leo Burnett.

Sure, Canadians might not know of this. But in the UK they would know. People of a certain age – Millennials – who buy the cereal for their kids – would know, particularly since the first two movies have gained cult status. People who watch what is hot right now in movies would know since the 3rd part of the trilogy was released in Aug. 2016. Hey, I know!

It is the job of ad agencies, Nay, it is the Ultimate Quest of Agencies, to seek out all possible connotations of all new product names and taglines before they use them. The client might want a name, or a tagline, but it might turn out to mean something rude in, say, Thailand, or be a cultural no-no in Spain, or be untranslatable into French, or have been used for a completely different and non-complementary purpose already by someone else. The pool of unused names is getting smaller and smaller as there are more and more products being branded. So, the check is a long and frustrating job, but it has to be done. In this case, someone didn’t do their job! Off with their head!

I love you, logo, but I can’t use you. Maybe some day...
I love you, logo, but I can’t use you. Maybe some day…

Take this business, Red Pennant: I wanted to keep using the name “Red Pennant” from my days in South Africa, but in Canada I found out that there was a distinct association with red flags – and China. Oops. In South Africa, it was a pun on “rouge” (my French-origin maiden name) and “pen” (writing).

In North America it mostly has connotations with Communism, China being just next door, so to speak. So the old logo (left) with the mob leader waving a red flag (actually an adaptation of the painting Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix) had to go – it was way too revolutionary. And now the logo is just stylized letters. Lesson learned though.

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