How Did a Radio Jingle Save Wheaties?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The cereal Wheaties was saved from termination by a radio jingle.

There always needs to be some sort of lucky confluence of events for ANY product to really break through in the marketplace. But sometimes, the events are a bit more out of the ordinary than others. Like, for instance, how Wheaties managed to be saved by something as a simple as a radio jingle.


Radio jingles were still in their infancy when General Mills (which, at the time, was going under the name Washburn Crosby Company, which was the two names of their founders, Cadwallader C. Washburn and John Crosby – they took the name General Mills when they went public in 1928) aired the following “song” on the radio in Minnesota on Christmas Eve, 1926 (sung by an unnamed male quartet, retroactively named “The Wheaties Quartet”)…

Have you tried Wheaties?
They’re whole wheat with all of the bran.
Won’t you try Wheaties?
For wheat is the best food of man.
They’re crispy and crunchy
The whole year through,
The kiddies never tire of them
and neither will you.
So just try Wheaties,
The best breakfast food in the land.

At the time, the argument was that the above song wasn’t technically an advertisement, but rather, just a song that was wondering if people ate Wheaties (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but there were some bizarre rules about advertising on the radio at the time that basically everyone had to wink at and then maneuver around as best as they could, especially since General Mills owned the radio station it first aired on – so this was how General Mills tried it, and hey, it worked!).

At the time, Wheaties was not a particularly good seller for General Mills.

The exact numbers are obviously a bit nebulous, but most figures I have read said that in 1929 they were selling roughly 50,000 boxes of Wheaties nationwide (General Mills’ official history says 53,000) – not a very good total, and General Mills was getting ready to shut the line down (it had only begun in 1924).

However, the head of advertising at General Mills, Sam Gale, argued that while, yes, the cereal only sold 50,000 boxes, 35,000 of those boxes were all in the Minnesota region! While granted, that’s where Wheaties was originally created and that was was where the company was based, it seemed hard to believe that they would be responsible for such a exceedingly high amount of the product sales. So he argued that instead of canceling the line, they should try the same jingle in other parts of the country, as perhaps it was the song that was leading to the high consumer interest.

They gave it a try, and wouldn’t you know it – the sales on Wheaties soared!

And the rest, I suppose, is history…

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Thanks to General Mills’ official history on their involvement with radio for the information!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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