Free Disappointment Inside: The Decline of Cereal Toys

 Free Disappointment Inside: The Decline of Cereal Toys

Oh snaps, weren't these toys awesome? Pic via Flickr: Just Uptown.

I want to tell you a story. By all accounts it is a fantasy story. One morning, a young child scurries downstairs after a restful night of sleep. He immediately rushes to the kitchen to fuel his new best day in the world, stopping in the pantry to grab his favorite cereal. As he opens the box his eyes catch something even more magical written on the side: “Free Toy Inside!” Joy of joys! “Could this be true?” the boy wonders. He can hardly contain himself as he pops the bag open and pours his cereal into the bowl. Suddenly, a small package tumbles out amongst the cereal. The boy instinctively grabs it and tears the wrapping off. Indeed, a new toy was his! A small Scrooge McDuck figurine! Isn’t life great as a kid?

Life Was Never So Sweet

Well, it was. Until the unthinkable happened: Cereal boxes no longer contained free toys. Sure it’s possible to find “Special Offers” on each and every box of just about everything, but it’s more than just rare to find that uniquely free toy inside the box. At this point in history, the Free Toy is nearly extinct, only fossils discovered in antique stores remain as proof that such a magical relic of the past ever existed.

So what the heck happened?!

Life used to be so great when I was a kid. It was still possible to get all manner of free things in a cereal box, be it a small figure, a decoder ring, a police badge, or a color-changing spoon. These days you’ll frequently see offers for a radio or an alarm clock or some other thing that kids usually don’t really care about. But is it free? No, of course not. You have to send at least one proof of purchase, usually more, along with a check in the mail. Do kids even shop for cereal the same way anymore? How could they?

Cereal Box Toys Dark Knight Free Disappointment Inside: The Decline of Cereal Toys

This is about as good as cereal companies can do anymore.

I find it even worse that the same trend has hit pretty much all forms of Instant Win games for food. Now you’re required to find an entry code somewhere on the packaging and go online to see if you’re an Instant Winner. But that’s not all. You first must sign up to have an account. Only after that can you enter your code and discover, hey, you didn’t win. I thought we were all about instant gratification in the current generation, so why do we have to prolong our disappointment so long?

Well the obvious reasons for both the lack of cereal toys and Instant Wins is that people are too lazy most of the time to bother with online codes or mail-in offers, meaning companies need to give out far less. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but from where I’m standing looking back at my childhood, I feel bad that the current generation is missing out. How cool were these cereal toys? An example:

Cereal Box Toys Disney Afternoon Free Disappointment Inside: The Decline of Cereal Toys

They may look simple, but these were what made kids want to eat cereal all the time.

The Disney Afternoon was at its peak of success, allowing cereal companies to package small figurines from the various shows such as Duck Tales, TailSpin, Rescue Rangers, and Gummi Bears. Each show had four figurines to collect, usually of the main characters. They were simple PVC figurines, but they were great. I remember getting Kit from TailSpin on his cloudsurfing board and thinking it was awesome because in my mind it was a flying toy and any toy I could pretend could fly was awesome. And of course the box showed that this was one of four possible figurines, meaning I had to buy at least three more boxes to collect them all. These days? Not so much.

But there is still some hope left. The Dark Knight saw some weird looking toys released in cereal boxes not too long ago, and if it comes right down to it, you can buy the old cereal toys online and slip them into your kids’ cereal before they know what’s happened. I recommend getting this 12-pack from Amazon. Otherwise the trend of online codes doesn’t seem to be fading but rather gaining unstoppable strength. It may just he up to us to keep the younger generations happy. Consider this your rallying cry!

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Author:Chris Pranger

Chris is the Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA, doing his best to oversee the site and see new content published at least three times a week. He's more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but he seems to be pretty bad with trolls. He also writes periodically for Tomopop and contributes weekly videos on The Escapist.

5 Responses to “Free Disappointment Inside: The Decline of Cereal Toys”

  1. Sarah
    December 14, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    I had those figurines in the picture :) brings back a lot of memories.

  2. PAUL
    February 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    ONCE THE BOX WAS BOUGHT THE TOY HAD TO BE FOUND ASAP. NO WAITING FOR THE NEXT CEREAL MEAL,IT WAS STRAIGHT IN.
    WHO REMEMBERS THE CAPTAIN SCARLET VEHICLES IN SUGAR SMACKS,MAYBE? THE STRANGE LOOKING MOON CREATURES OR THE WW1 BI PLANES IN BRAN FLAKES? THE EXCITEMENT WAS UNBELIEVABLE. TIMES WERE BETTER BACK THEN AS A KID? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.

  3. Megan King
    January 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I was just thinking about the lack of toys in cereal this morning when my daughter piped up to say, “Mom, can you buy cereal that has a toy in it next time?” And I told her I would see what I could do. Then she informed me that any kind of cereal was fine as long as there was a toy in it. But it got me thniking, I haven’t seen “free toy” on a cereal box for a long time! Stupid, bottom-line executives!

  4. jo
    September 2, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    I totally agree with this. The toys were the best thing about breakfast. And once you’d got the toy out of one box, all the more reason to eat the ceral asap so anotherone would have to be bought, hence another toy!I really want to know why they were stopped :(

  5. June 14, 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    If you wanted to buy some My Little Ponys to slip into my cereal boxes I wouldn’t mind…

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