Kellogg's 3 Point Pops Cereal, 13.2-oz. box (Kellogg Company)

Sales and profits in the cereal biz have been flat for a few years now, one result of which is that Kellogg's, the industry leader, has been reluctant to make the heavy financial investments needed to research and develop new product launches. Kellogg's has instead contented itself with spinning off variations of its existing brands, which is why we've been seeing so many products like Kellogg's Cocoa Frosted Flakes and Kellogg's Honey Crunch Corn Flakes in recent years. In many cases, it doesn't look like the Kellogg's folks have thought too hard about these spin-off brands, particularly in the case of their latest offering, a basketball-themed Corn Pops variation called Kellogg's 3 Point Pops.

3 Point Pops are basically just Corn Pops, except they're orange -- the idea is that they resemble a bunch of little basketballs. The box features a big photo of a basketball embossed with a pebbled surface, just like a real basketball, which is kinda cool. After that, however, it's all downhill. How poorly conceived is this product? Let us count the ways:

The concept: Basketballs are perfectly nice objects, but perhaps someone at Kellogg's should have considered that patterning a foodstuff after something made of rubber wasn't the brightest idea. Even the checkout girl at my supermarket, who's usually in her own little glassy-eyed zone of indifference, was shocked out of her stupor when I handed her my box of 3 Point Pops -- "Geez," she said as she examined the box, "that there's some weird-looking cereal!"

- The pitch: The box explains that 3 Point Pops are "basketball shaped" -- or, in other words, round. Whoa, talk about your revolutionary concepts!

- The color: 3 Point Pops aren't just orange -- they're almost exactly the same shade of orange used for Cheez Doodles, Cheez-Its, and several other cheese-flavored snacks. Sitting down to a bowl of the cereal therefore makes for an extremely counterintuitive breakfast experience -- our brains have been trained so effectively to associate this color with cheese that it's hard to accept the cereal's sugary flavor for what it is. I don't even eat Cheez Doodles or Cheez-Its myself, but the color still signifies so strongly with me that I swear I initially think the cereal smells like cheese each time I open the box. An interesting case study in how artificial colors have shaped our impressions of processed foods -- and another instance of poor forethought by Kellogg's.

According to the box, 3 Point Pops are a "Special Limited Edition Cereal," which is just an overhyped way of saying that they'll be taken off the market once the basketball season ends. But this product is such an obvious stinker that I have a feeling it may not even last that long. All of which is to say, if you want to score a box of one of the worst product ideas in recent memory, you'd better move fast -- these babies won't be around very long.

(Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI 49016)