The WWE's John Cena is about to lay the smackdown on Fred Flintstone, booting the prehistoric cartoon character from Fruity Pebbles boxes.
Flintstones fans, relax: Fred isn't being sent back to the Stone Age. It's a limited-edition promotion covering 4 million boxes of Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles, so Fred will still appear on some varieties. But his presence is likely to be Yabba-Dabba-subdued in the future as Post Holdings reshapes its packaging strategy for Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles, which will now front a variety of Flintstones characters in rotation, including Fred, Barney, Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm and Dino.
"We've just been talking with kids. They wanted more variety," said Sharon Pupel, a Post marketing director. "Fred isn't necessarily the … coolest or [most] relevant guy for kids who we are going after."
John Cena, though, apparently is. The WWE first entered into a deal with Post last year after Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson began teasing Mr. Cena for his brightly colored ring-gear, saying he looked like a "big, fat bowl of Fruity Pebbles." WWE executives say the plot twist was not an overt attempt to lure a new sponsor. But the WWE reached out to Post after it caught on with fans, who began chanting "Fruity Pebbles" in arenas.
Mr. Cena was featured last year on 3 million boxes of Fruity Pebbles, but he was relegated to the top of the box, while Fred still appeared front and center. Now, Mr. Cena has prominent placement on the front and center of boxes, a rare feat for a non-Flintstones character. Other promotions are planned, including a sweepstakes, as well as a likely return of Mr. Cena to the front of boxes in the back-to-school period.
For the WWE, the deal marks its most-significant partnership with a mainstream, family food brand since the organization began seeking such deals in the wake of toning down its act in 2008 to achieve a PG rating for the "Monday Night Raw" program. "It doesn't happen overnight," said Andrew Judelson, WWE's exec VP-sales and sponsorship. "Just because we say we've moved to PG doesn't mean corporate America immediately is going to respond," he added. "It takes consistency, it takes time and I think what's happening now ... is there is a tipping point." Other recent deals include a promotion with Colgate-Palmolive's Irish Spring soap. Mr. Judelson signaled that other similar deals are in the works.
But the show, which once matched up scantily clad divas in thongs and routinely included sexual references, has hit a few bumps on the road to family-friendly viewing. In 2011, gay-advocacy groups criticized how Mr. Cena responded to the Rock when he began using the Fruity Pebbles line. As reported by gay and lesbian magazine Metro Weekly, Mr. Cena went on a rapping tirade that included a couple of anti-gay slurs, including a demeaning reference to "Brokeback Mountain." The WWE apologized and struck up a partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that included sensitivity training. "We know that we have a gay fan-base, [so] we welcomed that opportunity," said a WWE spokeswoman.
As for the "Fruity Pebbles" moniker itself, the WWE says that merely refers to Mr. Cena's colorful gear, and nothing else.