In 1949, Post Raisin Bran cereal had the idea to produce records as a part of a promotional campaign. Releasing six 78rpms, each contained a different fairytale and read-along comic. This ploy, where customers could write in for a gift (after collecting proofs of purchase), is one of the earliest known marketing gimmicks.
In 1956, General Mills one-upped Post by releasing eight Walt Disney's Mouseketeers 78rpm records, which came directly printed onto boxes of Wheaties cereal. The characters Goofy, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse sang children's songs such as "Ten Little Indians" and "It's Fun to Whistle."
The cardboard was circularly perforated, and a thin plastic record was glued to the paper packaging. Once removed, and after a few spins on a turntable, the paper would warp or fold, making it unplayable after a day or two. Still, if kids dug the song enough, they could mail in a quarter to receive a red- or orange-colored official vinyl version.
By 1965, what became known as the "cardboard record" or "cereal box record" had been used as a promotional tool by every major brand of cereal in the United States. Around the late-'80s, though vinyl was still big in the underground, your average household no longer had a record player, and the back of cereal boxes returned to having puzzles or advertisements for brand-related products.
Today, collectors pay hefty prices for almost any complete cereal box with an unremoved record. Though one can find many simple cut-outs available throughout the internet, most have been re-flattened by new designs (tape, etc.) or re-glued to firmer cardboard.
While there are a number of records with stories (Honey-Comb Ghost Stories), games (Life Cereal Rock Music Mysteries), even exercises (The Toucan Sam Workout), or a mix of all three (Count Chocula's The Monsters Go Disco), the most sought after boxes are the Post Cereals music releases.
Let's listen to a few.
The fictional comic book band The Archies released (in '69 and '70) almost 20 different cereal box records. The 5.5" discs contained all their hits of that time, from "Bang-Shang-A-Lang" to "Sugar, Sugar."
Post Cereals, who were openly referring to themselves as "music lovers," then thought to sign on one of the biggest acts of the day: The Monkees. In 1969 and 1970, the band let the cereal company put out a dozen of their biggest hits on the back of Alpha Bits, Honey-Comb, and Frosted Rice Krinkles boxes. "I'm a Believer," "Last Train to Clarksville," and "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone" were all available—free—to almost any kid whose parents bought them breakfast.
Another collectors' favorite are the eight Jackson Five 6" records (also by Post Cereals) released on boxes of Alpha Bits and Frosted Rice Krinkles. In 1971, the group had signed on for the discs, but also appeared in the company's commercials.
One of the last great Post signings was Bobby Sherman, who released close to 20 cardboard records on boxes of Cinnamon Raisin Bran, Honey-Comb, and Frosted Rice Krinkles in 1972.
After proving itself to be the huge marketing scheme it was, the popularity of the cereal box record had a lot of companies thinking to throw in a cheap record along with almost any product.
In 1966, Mad Magazine's mascot Alfred E. Neuman released a paper record for the comedy track "It's a Gas" inside one of its issues. While one may only notice the burps, do know that the saxophone is provided by an uncredited King Curtis.
In Chicago, Fairmont Potato Chips released The Shadows of Knight 1967 single "Potato Chip" on a flexi 7" attached to the chip's bag.
Nowadays, you can press an actual record straight onto the cardboard itself—or press one up on plastic, metal, or even wood. With the resurgence of vinyl and the public gaining interest in format sound quality, we may soon see new techniques that will bring this near-forgotten form of advertising back to life. I, for one, really look forward to hearing that.