Breakfast cereals aimed at kids allure their target audience with bright colors, cute cartoon mascots, and of course tons of sugar. But the parents are the ones who have to fork over the cash, and they're not going to invest $3.99 in future dental bills. So how can you, the advertiser, convince Mom that Choco Woofers are actually harmless, even beneficial, and provide the vitamins and minerals that her growing child needs?
Simple. Just set your sugar-laden product (in a nice bowl) alongside toast, bacon, eggs, cheese, pancakes, fruit, vegetables, orange juice, milk, etc., and advertise that the cereal is an essential part of this complete breakfast. After all, if Choco Woofers are right at home amidst all those other wholesome foods, they must be perfectly healthful, right?
The claim is technically a legal requirement, but, like a Stealth Cigarette Commercial, the companies have hidden the obvious beneath the implications. After all — really! — if you were sitting down to the princely spread of that complete breakfast, Choco Woofers would be furthest thing from your mind. The only time you'd want to 'complete' a breakfast with Choco Woofers would be if you'd already eaten some and were still hungry, in which case you'd just grab the box and pour another bowl.
In other words, your Choco Woofers are "part of this complete breakfast" in much the same way that chocolate cake is "part of a complete dinner": as a tasty dessert that doesn't add anything to the meal but calories.
Further complicating things, the nutrition panels on cereal boxes in the UK tend to include the vitamins and calcium from average milk on top of those present in the dry cereal by itself, but this is more reasonable. Canadian and US labels show both the pre- and post-milk values.
Ironically, in the 1950s and '60s, having sugar added to a breakfast cereal was actually its selling point. You normally added your own sugar to your cereal anyway, and a pre-sweetened cereal meant you could save a step (and parents could know how much added sugar their kids were getting). By the end of the 1970s, though, sugar had become demonized, so sugary cereals took steps to downplay their sugar content: They changed their names (e.g. from Sugar Smacks to Honey Smacks, or from Sugar Frosted Flakes to just Frosted Flakes), and they started splitting the sugar into multiple types so that "sugar" no longer appeared at the top of the ingredients list (e.g. instead of being "Sugar, wheat flour, oat flour, ...", the ingredients now read "Wheat and oat flour, sugar, glucose-fructose, ...", even though the contents of the box were identical).
A newer variant of this is pulled by health products, particularly diet pills and nutritional supplements, where the ad claims the product will help you lose weight and/or be healthy when used "alongside diet and exercise"; of course, it's the diet and exercise that provide most of the effect, with the pills or nutritional supplements doing little if any actual work. (And they have a necessary legal obligation of their own, in that they are "not intended to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease".)
A Subtrope of False Cause, as correlation (a piece of fruit next to a bowl of sugary cereal) does not equal causation (the fruit and the cereal contributing equally to the nutritive content of the breakfast, so that if you took the cereal away you would lose half of the nutrition).
Compare to Overly Cool Play Space, where a toy is shown in a cool play area to make you associate the toy with the unrelated surrounding area. The name is from a Dave Barry column, as explained in the Quotes subpage.
- Nutella got in trouble for making claims that it was healthy to eat. When the FDA analyzed the amount of sugar per serving in the product, they threatened severe consequences if they continued the claim. Now Nutella commercials do not say their product is healthy, but they tout its healthy ingredients (such as hazel nuts and low fat milk) without mentioning the ratio of these ingredients to the sugar content. The packaging is a literal example of this trope, stressing that Nutella is healthy as long as it's consumed with whole wheat bread, milk and a serving of fruit.
- Almost any sugary cereal aimed at children during The '70s and The '80s: Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp, Cocoa Puffs...
- Slim-Fast. Lose weight with a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner. People who eat sensible dinners don't need the product. And even better, are eating a sensible breakfast and a sensible lunch (and maybe having a sensible snack), so they're actually eating more than the Slim-Fast planners, but because of the sensibleness are slimmer already.
- Ensure shakes are a tasty nutritional supplement. The ads cannot make clear how.
- Belvita Breakfast Biscuits will provide "energy for the whole morning"... when combined with fruit, dairy and a drink.
- XLS Medical diet pills: studies have shown that taking them (whilst also eating less and exercising more) will result in weight loss.
- Frosted Flakes doesn't associate with other breakfast foods, but still tiptoes this trope - the commercials always associates eating them with a healthy activity like playing sports. "The taste of Tony's Frosted Flakes brings out the tiger in you (and you!)." The activity aspect is to distract you from the fact that all you are eating is literally corn flakes with frosting on them, presented next to exercise. Sometimes it even shows the child eating their cereal at a picnic table at the park the activity is about to take place in.note
- Kellogg's was sued for false advertising claiming "A clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20 percent." This was 20% (rounded up from 11%) over kids who had no breakfast at all. Obviously, the kids who had Mini-Wheats were more attentive because they weren't hungry, not because of the Mini-Wheats.
- Bacon also got its start by getting marketed this way — obviously, it was quite effective.
- The MythBusters decided to test the classic line "the box that cereal comes in is more nutritious" by feeding this type of cereal to lab mice and comparing the results to mice that had been fed the cardboard box. The segment will never air, because one of the box mice ate the other two.
- They eventually aired a series of chemical tests (done in a motel breakfast area) that showed the cereal had more proteins, fats, sugars, and calories than an equivalent amount of cardboard box. They don't even mention the mouse test, though if you freeze-frame at the right point you can see one of the test mice in its cage.
- A rather amusing bit of the aired segment (near the end) showed them reading the box for the ingredients and nutritional information. Jamie asks why they didn't do that in the first place; Adam replies that while the nutritional information of the cereal was on the box, the nutritional information of the box was strangely lacking. Almost as if the box wasn't meant to be eaten...
- Not the Nine O'Clock News did a spoof advert for breakfast cereal, announcing
"Kelloggs Cornflakes. Part of a nutritious breakfast. Especially when sprinkled over food."
- Lampshaded sarcastically by Alan in Two and a Half Men towards jingle-writing brother Charlie:
Charlie: Hey, hey. Maple Loops is part of a nutritious balanced breakfast.Alan: Yeah, if you eat it with a steak and some broccoli!
- Calvin eats cereal that takes five grapefruits and a dozen bran muffins to even out the sugar (and possibly more, since Hobbes trails off while explaining this).
- Parodied in the Homestar Runner cartoon "Cheat Commandos...O's", where the titular cereal is shown next to a piece of chocolate cake, some caramels, and a glass of marshmallows, with the caption "Nutritious Breakfast", where the word "nutritious" has been crossed out and replaced with "delicious". There is also a subtitle that reads "Gallon of Ice Cream not pictured", and the cartoon ends up describing it as a "ridiculous breakfast" in the end.
- Futurama mocked this trope in the "Purpleberry Pond" segment of the "Saturday Morning Fun Pit" episode. An in-show commercial for a breakfast cereal the fake cartoon was effectively advertising had this to say about it:
"Purpleberry Puffs are the sweetest part of your complete breakfast...along with juice, toast, ham, eggs, bacon, milk, cheese, liver, waffles, and a biiiiig horse vitamin!"