Black and white illustration of an Indestructible Food: Strawberry Pop-Tarts.

“The name says it.”

I love the idea that when I’m running late, I’ll race through the kitchen, grab a Pop-Tart that’s flying out of the toaster, make it to the office just in time, and NAIL that presentation. Pop-Tarts are, and have always been, shorthand for sweet success on the go. Or toasted triumph under pressure? Whatever, from what I understand, they’re a foundational breakfast snack that pretty much guarantees a positive outcome to any situation. Which is surprising, considering the fact that they started as a rip-off of someone else’s good idea.

In 1964, cereal-giant Post announced to the press that it would be launching a toaster-prepared breakfast pastry. Was the product ready to launch? No. Was it wise to make an announcement so far in advance? Also no. 

Upon hearing this exciting news, the devious folks at Kellogg’s sprang into action. They developed their OWN version of the toaster pastry. Did Kellogg’s steal the idea? Yes. Was it an idea worth stealing? Also yes.

Now looking back, I couldn’t tell you which toaster pastry was superior, but I CAN tell you which had the better name. 

Post’s invention was called “Country Squares.” The name evokes a rural locale and a geometric shape. Ok, that’s boring, but fine. But in 1964, we called uncool people “square.” Naming your breakfast treat after an unpopular fellow is a bad move. Huey Lewis later said that it was “hip to be square,” but that idea came about 20 years too late to save “Country Squares.”

Kellogg’s, on the other hand, called their pastry “Pop-Tarts.” The name is a play on an art movement (Pop Art) that was currently influencing culture. “Pop” refers to “popular” and also the action of the pastry as it springs out of the toaster. “Tart” calls to mind a delicious fruity treat that people want to eat. “Pop-Tarts” is what we in marketing call, “a very good name” that does a lot of “heavy lifting.”

As you might imagine, Pop-Tarts outsold Country Squares by a large margin, and established dominance in the very competitive breakfast-convenience category. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that a great name can be the difference between a ho-hum product launch and a toaster-propelled success story.