A long-forgotten Kellogg mascot tells his story

Leo Burnett Toronto is celebrating its 70-year relationship with Kellogg Canada through a short film that tells the story of Newt the Gnu, the Pete Best of cereal mascots. He coulda been a star, but instead became a casualty of consumer indifference—consigned to the dustbin of history, just like McDonald’s Speedee, or Snap, Crackle and Pop’s long-forgotten companion, Pow.

According to Kellogg’s official history of Tony the Tiger, Newt was one of four characters introduced by the company in May of 1952 as proposed mascots for its new Sugar Frosted Flakes of Corn cereal, joined by Katy the Kangaroo and Elmo the Elephant.

But it was Tony the Tiger, designed by Leo Burnett Chicago art director Eugene Kolkey, that struck a chord with consumers, and led to Newt being denied an opportunity to be the gnu kid on the cereal box.

Tony, of course, went on to enjoy a fabul- er, gr-r-reat! career that saw him become one of the most iconic advertising mascots ever, as recognizable as Mr. Peanut, the Colonel and Ronald McDonald.

Featuring animation by Tonic DNA (with Vapor Music for audio), the nearly three-minute film focuses entirely on Newt, now living in a modest bungalow and spending his days rueing the chance at mascot stardom he feels he was denied by Tony. He’s embittered about being forced to make a living by taking jobs “mascoting” for used car dealerships and pushing farm-fresh tomatoes.

“Tony’s definitely had some work done,” he says at one point as he looks at images of a pumped-up Tony skating and playing with a soccer ball. “I don’t even have a back,” he adds, lamenting the fact he wasn’t around long enough to enjoy the 3D animation that Tony did, turning around to reveal that there’s nothing on the other side of his original 2D rendering.

The film, which contains archival images of some of the extensive print and TV work Leo has done for Frosted Flakes over the past seven decades—as well as its work for brands including Rice Krispies, Froot Loops and Special K—is celebrating a longstanding client-agency relationship that’s extraordinary by modern standards, said Leo Burnett’s chief creative officer Steve Persico.

“We all think it’s been a great relationship, and we’ve done great work together, and we all think this is the best partnership in the industry, but we wondered if there were any haters out there,” said Persico explaining how they decided to make Newt’s story the film’s focus. “We thought he’d probably be the one that thinks our 70-year run could have been a bit better.”

The film was shown during a private party at Toronto gastropub The Oxley celebrating the now 70-year association between Kellogg Canada and Leo Burnett. Kellogg’s U.S. parent had been working with Leo since 1949 when it asked the agency to open a Toronto office to service its Canadian account.

“A partnership that has lasted this long and is still going strong is a huge testament to everyone who has touched the Kellogg’s brand on both the agency and client side,” said Emma Eriksson, Kellogg Canada’s vice-president of marketing and wellbeing “Everyone who works on it knows they’re part of something special, and this 70-year mark is proof that it truly is.”

Leo also created a LinkedIn profile for Newt indicating that even at his advanced age he’s open for work, despite some worrisome gaps in his employment history—including from 1952 to 1995, when he finally got a job as the mascot for Jim’s Used Car Lot, and again from September 1999 until July 2010, when he briefly worked as a mascot for Farm Fresh Tomatoes.

He’s currently listed as a “Gnu horn hornist,” but he’s missing one guaranteed way to earn a nice payday and perhaps regain some cultural relevance:  A tell-all memoir.

Chris Powell