“We’re in the ditch here at Kellogg’s, folks,” the honcho at the furthest end of the board room table roared. “Nobody’s eating Frosted Flakes anymore. Tony the Tiger just isn’t keeping us above water like he used to.”
“We lost the millennials a long time ago to Frappucinos and veggie bagels stuffed with kale,” another at the table began. “And now they’re all having kids and feeding them the same crap.”
“True,” the boss replied, scratching his chin and easing backward into his chair with a deflated sigh. “So, what do we do?”
“I don’t know,” the same executive offered, “but unless we come up with a new product, something irresistible to both the kids and the parents, the days of cold cereal will be nothing more than a questionable Wikipedia page for junior high kids doing history reports.”
“Do any of you have any ideas worth sharing?” the chief asked, rocking in his chair and waving an open palm in frustration around the table. “Does anyone here have anything?”
One hand went up.
“Of course, we need to be true to who we are as a company,” a younger executive offered in a voice betraying her nervousness, “but we also need to be asking ourselves what millennials and children both have in common, and then we need to try to meet them there.”
A moment of silence passed.
“Go on,” the boss motioned.
Shifting slightly in her chair, the young woman continued, “I’ve been thinking about this, and I think that since we’re pretty much about slapping cartoon characters onto boxes of sugary globs of addictive carbohydrates, I figure the only thing we need to do to recapture the millennial market is to figure out what’s at the heart of their beliefs and then continue to do what we do best.”
Another moment passed.
“Keep going,” the boss nodded.
“If you really think about it, millennials and their children really do have a lot of the same traits.”
“They do?” the person beside her asked.
“Sure they do,” she replied.
“Pedagogically speaking, children are fairly straightforward and simple, right? You don’t necessarily need to use flowery language to gain their interest. In fact, the simpler, the better. The same goes for millennials. They want a straight answer and that’s that. Flowery stuff like, well, details, sort of bogs them down.”
“Sure,” the boss agreed, “but how do we turn that into breakfast cereal?”
“Well, this is where we can be who we are and make the connection.”
The whole room appeared to rise from a common slouch into full posture of attentiveness.
“Children believe in mythical, fairytale-like things. Millennials do, too. For kids it’s things like mermaids and dragons. For millennials, it’s believing they’re going to be a millionaire without actually having a job, free healthcare, or hope in socialism. You know, things like that.”
The boss’ stale concern was becoming an enlightened smile.
“So, you see,” the young executive finished, “we only need to think of a fairytale character for our next cereal. No more talking tigers and toucans, but something mythical that both kids and millennials may actually believe is real.”
“Do you have a creature in mind?” the boss asked, his voice now blooming with intrigue.
“Unicorns,” the young woman said.
Silence won the immediate moment, but soon the room was filled with sighs of optimistic relief.
“Brilliant!” the boss exclaimed, matching the room’s buoyant cheer. “I can see it now: Ulysses the Unicorn cereal! And we’ll plaster him across a bright colored box with flowers and…”
“No name for the unicorn, sir,” she interrupted. “Remember, these folks just want us to shoot straight. I say we just call the cereal ‘Unicorn Cereal’ and that’s it. I know it’s weird, but that’s all we need to do.”
“Yep, that’s it,” she said resolutely. “Of course we’ll probably put some sparkly rainbows in the background, too. Rainbows only enhance the fairytale nature of the box’s primary icon.”
“Does it matter what kind of cereal we put inside?” another leaned in to ask.
“Probably not. In fact, we can probably just take a cereal we already have in stock and stick in it there. They’re all fairly habit forming. Maybe just dye some Fruit Loops a different color.”
“Again, brilliant!” the boss called out. Looking to the executive at his left, “Bob,” he said decisively, “get the ball rolling on this right away!”
“I’m on it,” he said. “Meeting’s over, folks. Let’s get to work.”
The meeting’s muse stood up to leave with the crowd, but the boss called to her, “Not you, my young friend. I want you to take a walk with me.”
Gathering her things, she made her way around the table and joined him through a different door. Bob followed a few paces behind them.
“I knew there was a reason we put you in charge of packaging,” the boss said, opening the door to his corner suite. “And now it’s time to celebrate that decision.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, smiling and taking the corner seat of the leather sectional. “I’m glad to contribute.” Only a few paces away, her boss counted three rock glasses from a cabinet followed by a bottle she couldn’t quite see.
“And since we’ve been talking about beasts of the mythical variety,” he chuckled and pulled the bottle’s cork, “I’ve been saving this limited edition whisky for just such an exceptional moment.”
“He’s opening the Bruichladdich Octomore Masterclass 8.2,” Bob whispered as he took a seat beside her on the sectional. “That’s a big deal.”
Even from a distance, with the first pour she could smell what reminded her of evening campfires near the beach with her family as a child, the ocean’s salty breezes gathering the crackling cinders and cooled ash in its streams.
“Smells nice,” she said, taking a dram from the boss’ hand.
“This whisky isn’t the oldest in my collection,” he said, handing another dram to Bob and then taking one for himself. “But just like you, young lady, age isn’t necessarily a qualifier.” The compliment made her smile. “The whiskey was aged for about eight years,” he continued, “but its upbringing is one of incredible refinement. It was finished in three different types of wine barrels— Mourvèdre and Sauternes, both from France, and then another from Austria, but I don’t remember the type.”
“To unicorns!” Bob offered, lifting his glass to the others.
“Unicorns!” they announced together and then sipped.
“This is great,” she said. “It tastes a little like orange marmalade on buttered toast.”
“Burnt toast,” Bob gurgled through a swallow. “It’s incredibly peaty. And oily. You like this stuff, sir?”
The boss’ eyes were closed as he savored the dram. “Yes, I do,” he said through a grin. “It’s hefty and thick in every way. But there’s also a sweetness, like cupcake batter and cream frosting. And the finish has a medium, almost sparkly warmth to it.” He opened his eyes. “It’s so well balanced it’s fantastical, just like our new product is going to be, thanks to you,” he said motioning his glass to the youthful executive.
“Do me a favor, will you?” he asked. “When you’re getting the packaging together, put a cupcake on there somewhere to memorialize the moment we took back the millennial market.”
“I can try,” she started, “but remember we need to keep it simple. Cupcakes don’t really have anything to do with unicorns, sir.”
“Well, then, make it a magic cupcake,” he said. “In fact, you’d better suggest that the cereal is actually made from these magic cupcakes and not unicorns. This whole idea could backfire if the millennials over at PETA get the wrong idea.”
“Good point, sir,” she said.
“To unicorns and magic cupcakes,” Bob said, raising his glass again.
“To unicorns and magic cupcakes!”