Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Monday, January 12, 2009


In 2003 General Mills, Inc.’s brand Cheerios was the top-selling cold-cereal brand in the United States, claiming $334 million in sales of the $8 billion cereal market. But General Mills believed that the aging brand, which had been introduced in 1941 as Cheerioats, was losing its edge. The company began looking for ways to move the brand out of the kitchen cupboard and to make the cereal part of American families on a more emotional level. To help achieve that goal, the Cheerios packaging was changed, replacing the bowl of Cheerios on the box’s front with a heart. And General Mills’ agency, Saatchi & Saatchi New York, which had worked with the company for almost 80 years, was charged with creating a new advertising campaign that focused less on the nutritional message that the brand’s oat ingredients were healthy and more on the emotional benefits of the cereal. Saatchi & Saatchi’s co-chief operating officer Mike Burns said in an interview with Fast Company, ‘‘It became very much about motherhood and nurturance—that Cheerios is an expression of love and doing the best for your family.’’ The ‘‘Stories’’ campaign, which presented a series of television spots sharing the true experiences of consumers that involved Cheerios, began in 2003.
According to Saatchi & Saatchi, the campaign succeeded in reaching mothers as well as consumers of all ages, which helped to drive sales. The campaign also inspired consumers to log on to the ‘‘Stories’’ website to post their own heartwarming family experiences involving Cheerios and to read those of others. In addition, the ongoing campaign was recognized by the advertising industry, beginning in 2003 with one spot, ‘‘Breakfast in Bed,’’ being named a Best Spot by Adweek. In 2005 the ‘‘Heartbeat’’ spot won a Gold EFFIE Award, and the ‘‘Adoption’’ spot garnered four ADDY Awards, including the National Gold.

General Mills introduced Cheerioats in 1941 with a marketing strategy that included a cute little-girl spokescharacter named Cheery O’Leary and the tagline ‘‘Cheer up with Cheerioats.’’ The brand also signed on in 1941 as sponsor of the radio Western The Lone Ranger, and it maintained the relationship during the program’s run through 1949. The popularity of the masked man and his show pushed sales of Cheerios to nearly 1.8 million cases of the cereal in the first year of sponsorship. When the program moved to television in 1949, Cheerios stayed on as its sponsor until the 1960s. During the years that it sponsored The Lone Ranger the brand experienced numerous changes.
In 1945 the cereal’s name was changed to Cheerios, and sweet little Cheery disappeared into the cerealcharacter history books. The tagline was changed to ‘‘Cheerios: the first ready-to-eat cereal.’’ In the 1960s General Mills began promoting the health benefits of its Cheerios brand with marketing taglines such as ‘‘Go with the goodness of Cheerios’’ (introduced in 1964), which was followed by ‘‘Nutrition: that’s the Cheerios tradition’’ (1971). Almost from the beginning, Cheerios’ marketing targeted children, and in 1974 it got a boost with moms as the preferred first finger-food for their toddlers when pediatricians began recommending it to parents. In 1994 the tagline ‘‘The one and only’’ was introduced, and when the ‘‘Stories’’ campaign began in 2003, the long-running tagline continued to be used.

According to Saatchi & Saatchi, the ‘‘Stories’’ campaign targeted and was designed to resonate with anyone who had a tender spot in their heart, regardless of their age. But beyond that, the campaign targeted moms by portraying real situations that busy women could relate to. In an E-mail correspondence Saatchi & Saatchi representative Blair Meisels wrote, ‘‘We know the world isn’t perfect and neither is her family, but it’s the special moments when they come together that make it all worthwhile.’’ The campaign also targeted all generations of consumers looking for diet support for a healthier life by promoting the product’s cholesterol-lowering benefits as well as its value as a nutritious first finger-food for toddlers.

The Kellogg Company was the number one breakfastcereal maker in the United States in 2004, with a 33.5 percent share compared to General Mills’ 31.5 percent share. With its Frosted Flakes brand falling in at number two behind General Mills’ Cheerios, a long-standing favorite with parents of toddlers, Kellogg determined to meet the competition head-on by introducing its own toddler-friendly cereal. The new brand, Tiger Power, was tagged ‘‘food to grow’’ and targeted the mothers of toddlers and preschool-age children. Supporting the new cereal’s launch was a $20 million television, print, and Internet marketing campaign created by Leo Burnett Chicago. It used Tony the Tiger, Kellogg’s iconic spokescharacter for the Frosted Flakes brand. Even though the new cereal resembled Cheerios (it had three O-shapes connected to form a triangle) and had a strong supporting campaign and a well-known spokescharacter touting it as ‘‘Gr-r-reat to grow,’’ Tiger Power lacked power and failed to grow. The new cereal hit the shelves in January 2005, and by May sales had reached only $3.4 million, a small number compared to Cheerios’ reported $550 million in sales in 2004. Kellogg announced plans to increase the advertising budget for the new brand, but according to a report in Advertising Age, some were questioning whether the cereal would still be on store shelves by the end of the year.
Kraft Foods, Inc., the number one food company in the United States, was best known for its expansive line of cheeses, crackers, and cookies. Also in the Kraft Foods arsenal was the Post Cereals line with more than 23 varieties. One was Grape-Nuts, which was introduced to consumers in 1897 and was one of the first ready-toeat cereals, and another was kid-targeted Alpha-Bits (introduced in 1957), cereal shaped like the letters in the alphabet and loaded with sugar. Despite its broad selection of cereals, Post ranked a distant third behind Kellogg and General Mills, claiming just a 16 percent market share at the beginning of 2000. To help drive sales, in 2000 Post began a promotional effort that included offering items from the Universal Studios Land Before Time movies, a dinosaur-themed series that had been a hit with kids aged two to seven. The effort was supported by print advertising that targeted mothers of children in that age group, but it seemed futile, as Post reported a 1.9 percent drop in sales in 2001 from the previous year. In a 2003 promotion Post put mini-bobblehead statues of Major League Baseball players in boxes of its different cereal brands, including Alpha-Bits. Again the effort did not noticeably increase sales. Post took a different approach to reach moms and their kids in 2005; it reformulated its Alpha-Bits cereal, making it sugar free and whole grain. To promote the improved cereal as a healthy finger food for toddlers, Post partnered with the Reach Out and Read program to introduce letter recognition and reading to young children. The children’s literacy effort included distributing new books to children ages six months to five years old through pediatricians’ offices. In addition, learning activities using the alphabet cereal in what the company described as ‘‘eat-ertainment’’ could be found on the website

Cheerios was the top-selling cold cereal in the United States in 2003, but General Mills wanted to give the brand a creative edge that promoted the cereal’s health benefits while also connecting with consumers on a meaningful and emotional level. Saatchi & Saatchi, which had been General Mills’ agency for nearly 80 years, was charged with creating a new marketing campaign for Cheerios that would achieve the desired edge for the brand, connect with consumers, and drive sales. Working with the idea that customers’ real-life experiences with Cheerios would resonate with consumers, the agency developed the ‘‘Stories’’ campaign. It was released in 2003. No specific budget for the campaign was announced, but according to a report in Advertising Age, in 2003 General Mills spent $40 million advertising the Cheerios brand overall.
The campaign, limited to television, told the true stories of various customers’ life experiences in which Cheerios had played a role. The 10 unique spots included the titles ‘‘Breakfast in Bed,’’ which aired in 2003, and ‘‘Heartbeats’’ and ‘‘Adoption,’’ both of which aired in 2005. ‘‘Breakfast in Bed’’ depicted a young boy in the wee hours of the morning carrying bowls, spoons, and a bottle of milk into the semidark bedroom where his parents were sleeping. He used a box of Cheerios as a tray, and he advised his sleepy parents, ‘‘You’ve got to take some cholesterol off of you.’’ In the ‘‘Heartbeat’’ spot, a small boy was shown cuddling with his father on a sofa. The boy said, ‘‘I hear something. Thump, thump, thump.’’ The father said that the sound was his heart talking to the boy. The little boy then asked, ‘‘Does it ever say anything else?’’ A voice-over stated the health benefits of eating Cheerios. This was followed by the boy saying, ‘‘I hear gorp, gorp,’’ to which the man responded, ‘‘That’s my stomach.’’ The boy asked, ‘‘Your stomach talks too?’’ The spot ended with the Cheerios tagline, ‘‘The one and only.’’ In ‘‘Adoption’’ a young couple was shown riding in the back seat of a car in an unknown but clearly foreign city. They were picking up two small children who they were adopting. Both children were reluctant to leave the orphanage or foster home where they had been living, but the couple had an opportunity to begin bonding with the children when they offered them Cheerios as a treat.
Supporting the campaign was a new website,, that enabled consumers to share their own ‘‘Cheerios Moments’’ and read those of others. The stories shared on the website touched upon Cheerios lovers from all generations. Many of the posted stories were from parents whose children were adults but continued to eat Cheerios. In one story, ‘‘Cheerios Bandit,’’ the mother of a toddler wrote that her daughter began walking at 10 months old and quickly learned how to help herself to the box of Cheerios, earning her the nickname that titled the story. Another person said that her daughter, who had eaten Cheerios since she was a toddler and was then 23 years old, still considered Cheerios her favorite ‘‘comfort’’ food. The writer of ‘‘88 Years of Dedication’’ told of the person’s 88-yearold mother, who ate a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast every day and occasionally a bowl of the cereal before bed if she was hungry. It noted that the elderly mother was in good health, volunteered, and cut her own grass using a riding mower. People who visited the website could also view the ‘‘Adoption’’ television spot.

The ‘‘Stories’’ campaign was well received by consumers and was recognized with numerous advertising-industry awards. Consumers motivated by the television spots took time to log on to the ‘‘Stories’’ website to share their own ‘‘Cheerios Moments’’ stories, read the stories of others, and comment on the commercials. One customer who posted her comments on the site wrote that the spot featuring a young boy serving his parents breakfast in bed was ‘‘the most wonderful, delightful, and adorable ad I’ve ever seen.’’
The commercial ‘‘Breakfast in Bed’’ was named an Adweek Best Spot in 2003. The campaign’s spot ‘‘Heartbeat,’’ telling the story of a young boy hearing his father’s heart beating, garnered a 2005 Gold EFFIE Award. The award’s summary credited the campaign with boosting Cheerios’ sales and getting to the heart of what was important to consumers. In addition, the ‘‘Adoption’’ commercial, which related the story of a couple on their journey to pick up the two small children they had adopted, won four 2005 ADDY Awards in the cinema and television categories, including the National Gold award. The American Advertising Federation presented the awards each year in recognition of creative excellence in advertising.

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