Just like a bowl of Frosted Flakes wouldn't be the same without a cartoon Tiger reassuring you "They're Grrreat!" and a Pilsbury biscuit wouldn't seem quite so moist (yet flaky) without our giggling doughboy, Rice Krispies belong to that rarefied circle of products so intimately bound to their marketing campaigns that it becomes impossible to determine whether we're experiencing, say, a bowl of delicious Trix cereal, or whether that bowl of cereal merely seems delicious because it binds us closer to the silly rabbit himself.
Precious few products can claim such sway over our tastebuds. But there does seem to be a rule of thumb when it comes to this sort of deep product penetration: Hit them when they're young. It's been decades since a piece of bologna has crossed my lips, but I'll tell you this: My bologna has a first name. It's O-S-C-A-R.
For snackers of a certain age, Chester Cheetah enjoys similar iconic status. We've watched Chester go from his early "Cheesy" period to the midcareer era when he just wanted to tell the world he was "Cheesier." These days, which I'll term Chester's middle-late period, he's "Dangerously Cheesy." If you ask me, he's sort of cheesed himself into a corner. Where do you go from "Dangerously Cheesy?" Lethally Cheesy?
More important, what do you do when you come across the sort of marketing Frankenstein that is Cheetos Asteroids 100 Calorie Mini Bites? For starters, located right next to a box of South Beach Diet bars, Cheetos Asteroids 100 Calorie Mini Bites come in a white-and-light-blue box that could just as well house a six-pack of Nutri-Grain bars. The largest font on the box, the sort of italicized print you'd expect to see on a box of muesli, spells out "100 Calories." "Cheetos Asteroids," the product's actual name, is relegated to a smaller font in the upper-right-hand corner.
Most distressing, though, Chester Cheetah is nowhere to be found. Apparently Chester's rakish mien just didn't jibe with Cheetos Asteroids 100 Calorie Mini Bites' healthy image. Sure, Cheetos Asteroids are still "dangerously cheesy." In fact, as far as ingredients are concerned, Cheetos Asteroids are the spitting image of the good old Cheetos that Chester has been hawking for the better part of fifteen years. They still turn your tongue an unnatural shade of orange and gum up your teeth, but without Chester these little pellets have lost their bearing. Instead we learn that Cheetos Asteroids contain no trans fat and are "[t]he right snack for sensible munching." As the packaging clearly announces, each serving contains only 100 calories. Who knew that Cheetos always regarded, in my circle, at least, as the most unnatural member of the Chip family were actually good for you? Of course that package of Cheetos Asteroids 100 Calorie Mini Bites is less eager to tell you that those 100 calories (and very little else) come from a paltry 0.62 ounce serving. Cheetos have never been a particularly substantial foodstuff, but a 0.62 ounce serving translates to something like eight Cheetos more an amuse bouche than a snack.
There's so little to a package of Cheetos Asteroids that you can't be sure what you've eaten. But with Chester gone, you can be sure of this: You sure haven't been eating Cheetos.