Honey Nut Cheerios Healthy Hearts

Honey Nut Cheerios hits a home run

Honey Nut CheeriosHoney Nut Cheerios is one of General Mill’s flagship brands. The cereal market is in a death spiral (read our in-depth market study on the cereal and breakfast category here) as tastes and consumer patterns change. Breakfast cereal used to be the staple food at breakfast tables across the globe but times have changed.

Honey Nut CheeriosThe venerable brands of my youth (Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Post Raisin Bran, Wheaties and even Cheerios) are hard at work trying to expand the market.

Time was all of the advertising dollars was directed at kids. Even Wheaties (the breakfast of champions) was targeted at getting kids to prefer the cereal over other choices. Today, more and more brands are simply trying to expand the traditional audience by including adults in the advertising too. Most to little effect.

The reason for the failure is that brand permission does not come by simply featuring the target audience in the communication. You need to have the target audience say to themselves, “I want to be that.”

Enter Honey Nut Cheerios

The Cheerios parent brand has been talking heart healthy for many years now. There seems to be no dissenting voices in science that there are REAL benefits to oats (oat bran in particular) in the health and vitality of the human heart. But the message of heart healthy has done very little to expand the category and, while one of the more successful rebrands in the cereal market, Cheerios has continued to disappoint despite outperforming many others in the category.

But the Healthy Hearts Stay Young campaign may be a real game changer.

The commercial has the mandatory adult and child but the similarity ends here. The spots are an exuberant and charming combination of energy and brand without the usual feature of focusing only on the product. The spots are mesmerizing and are so well produced that you find yourself stopping on the commercial when channel surfing. The main spot is THAT good. The supporting spots are less powerful because it is the adult in the main commercial that is most appealing.

Stop the other branded slop.

General Mills Logo Honey Nut CheeriosThis campaign truly builds brand preference. I want to be THAT and I’m sure I am not alone. The precocious child is overshadowed by the talented adult and it is her movement and agility that holds sway in the spot. I simply can’t take my eyes off her and even see the little girl as a distraction. Despite the lack of traditional brand identification, I remembered this commercial as being all about Honey Nut Cheerios. It worked.

Scrap the silly honey bee, General Mills. He (or she) may be cute but the commercials are all about YOU and the natural ingredients. You took the bold step of making your prospects feel that they want to be part of the club and we don’t need any rational reasons why your honey came from bees. To my knowledge, all honey comes from bees.

A few words on Kellogg’s

What Kellogg cereals (and others) need to do

On this snowy and cold North Carolina Friday, I wanted to point out a story in Bloomberg Business about the rise and fall of Kellogg, the top cereal-producing company in the U.S.

As we’ve noted in our own study of the cereal market, the industry has bottomed out as consumers have, ironically, found healthier and more convenient ways to eat breakfast.

I say ironic because when W.K. Kellogg first founded his company, it was to give consumers a healthier and more convenient alternative to the leftover meats they were eating in the early 1900s. Now, with Kellogg’s top-selling cereal being Frosted Flakes, the cereals are less healthy and convenient than simply grabbing a yogurt or breakfast bar on the way out the door.

Fewer and fewer people are having this for breakfast.
Fewer and fewer people are having this for breakfast.

What is interesting about the Bloomberg article, which tells the inside story of Kellogg cereals, is how much Kellogg has lost its way as a brand. You see, brands aren’t just marketing endeavors. They are also the compasses that direct everything you do, from product development to marketing to what you stand for (and who your customer represents).

In Kellogg’s case, it went so far into the unhealthy, sugar cereals that it got on the wrong side of history. It didn’t help that it tried to enter the health market by buying Kashi – then transforming the brand into Kashi Chocolate Almond Butter cookies and even Kashi frozen pizzas.

Talk about not understanding the brand.

But the problems of the cereal companies are larger than how to handle its individual brands. What Kellogg and its competitors (such as General Mills, which has had tremendous success with its Cheerios brand) need to consider is what they should own.

Right now, they own that spot where dying brands like Radio Shack, Blockbuster and others were several years ago. They look archaic and completely out of step.

What they should own is breakfast. We’ve seen a few attempts at it, as referenced in our study. But with each passing day, fast food restaurants and other outlets are owning that daypart and no cereal company is going to out-product its way out of the dilemma.

If one of those cereal companies wants to know how to turn around its fortunes, call me.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch to try a different audience

Will adults come back to eating cereal?

Now this is interesting. As some of you might know, we posted an in-depth study of the breakfast cereal market and came away with several conclusions. One of which was that kids, the traditional target audience for these cereals, have better and more convenient choices so the market for those cereals is shrinking.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the fifth best-selling cereal in the US, is rolling out marketing to adults, not children, in the next few months. It’s an attempt for a kind of retro approach, complete with more cinnamon in the cereal, ads on adult programming (not the kids’ channels as before) and a social media campaign that includes bloggers for moms.

Is this cereal for you?
Is this cereal for you?

Now, I said it was interesting, but I’m not sure how effective it will become. General Mills, which owns Cinnamon Toast Crunch, says half of its current audience is made up of adults and it’s hoping those adults remember how much they enjoyed the cereal years ago.

Said Associate Marketing Manager Elizabeth Crocker to Marketing Daily: “Cinnamon Toast Crunch is not only a favorite among families, but also adults who grew in the ‘80s. We are seeing an uptick in interest from both millennial consumers who enjoy the taste and fun, as well as older customers who fondly remember it from their childhood.”

In the study, we said that cereals should promote the brand of cereal instead of touting its individual brands because the category had a serious hurdle to overcome: The belief that cold cereals are simply not healthy. It’s not a strategy we would usually recommend, but the cereal industry has been watching sales fall for a decade now and some plugging of the dike needs to take place.

Adding cinnamon, or rolling out a fruitier flavor for Trix or increasing the chocolate flavor in Cocoa Puffs (all of which General Mills has done) doesn’t seem like the right strategy to stop that flow. It sounds like the cereals will become even less healthy.

Targeting adults with nostalgia will be interesting, but execution will be key. (McCann is doing the upcoming ads.) If the ads look and sound like any other breakfast cereal campaign, it’ll fail miserably. Part of the problem cereals have had is that they all look and sound the same. They just look like a goop of cartoony, sugar-infested food that appeals to few. (Even kids have moved onto the on-the-go foods like Pop Tarts.)

My prediction is that this strategy will provide a brief uptick in sales, but will not work for the long term because it doesn’t address the real issues and may even be counterproductive to alleviating those issues.

But if done in an unapologetic manner (think, in tone, like Hardee’s in the fast food category), it has a chance. We’ll be watching.

The layoffs at General Mills is only the beginning

Cold cereals must do something drastic – and quickly.

A few months ago, we took a hard look at the cold cereal breakfast brands and found that the old model was broken. There were so many brands with so many variations inside those brands that they were, in effect, cannibalizing a market that was shrinking due to changing eating habits.

People were moving away from sugary cereals to other things for breakfast, such as yogurt or breakfast bars (or fast food, hence the many new fast food restaurants entering the category). Therefore, it comes as no surprise to find out that General Mills is once again planning to cut jobs as revenues decrease.

general_mills_2
What will become of General Mills?

Now, General Mills makes more than cold cereal. It also owns Yoplait yogurt as well as the Betty Crocker and Green Giant brands. But the current layoff comes two years after it laid off more than 800 workers. So something is up.

This comes as the processed food industry is in decline as consumers are finding other options, either making meals at home or going through quick-serve restaurants (QSR) that attract both sides of the eating spectrum.

As we pointed out in the study, the industry, especially in the cereal space, has become so over saturated that consumers basically ignore them, whether their eating habits have changed or not. It’s a category that’s trying to fight on taste with old-style marketing.

As we’ve learned from working in the breakfast category, winning in a daypart for a food maker is about being in the considered set because few people eat the same thing every day.

There are other issues. A strategy we suggested in the study is that cereals should elevate the category of cereals instead of making different versions of the same brand. (General Mills is planning yet another version of Cheerios with added protein.) It’s not a strategy we usually suggest – we help clients steal market share from their competitors – but the category is in crisis. It must must build back up the category.

The elimination of jobs at General Mills is only the beginning.