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General Mills Looks Beyond TV to Target 'Micro' Markets

CMO Mark Addicks, An Ad Age Digital Keynote Speaker, Talks Tactics

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A scene from Cheerios' Super Bowl ad
A scene from Cheerios' Super Bowl ad

With big brands like Cheerios, Yoplait and Pillsbury, General Mills has traditionally targeted its marketing to the masses with hefty TV ad budgets and messages carefully crafted to resonate with as many people as possible.

But recently, the Minnesota-based home of the Jolly Green Giant has begun to think a lot smaller, using digital to go after what General Mills Chief Marketing Officer Mark Addicks calls "micro markets." That might include special messages aimed at expectant mothers, or taking a brand normally associated with holiday baking -- like Betty Crocker -- into the barbecue season.

Mr. Addicks will discuss the marketer's new approach at the upcoming Ad Age Digital Conference, held April 1-2 in New York City. We recently caught up with him for a quick preview.

Mark Addicks
Mark Addicks

Advertising Age: As you look out the next several years, what are some digital opportunities for packaged food brands?

Mr. Addicks: The first one is to really redefine marketing. What I think digital allows you to do is to go back to the original definition of marketing, which really wasn't just advertising. It was really about finding markets, defining them, developing a brand that could deliver something differential and superior for them.

One of the most exciting things about digital is that for the first time you can start to see markets and you can actually get to markets that you never could before because you had to make these choices based on the channels by which you could market, like network TV. The sheer size and scope of those, and the costs, required that you could only market to certain markets: They had to be big. They had to be broad. They had to be able to deliver a certain amount of purchasing power to justify the expense.

Now with digital you can really start to get these micro markets in new ways that we never could before.

Ad Age: How is General Mills doing this?

Mr. Addicks: With a brand like Cheerios with a generic heart health benefit … there are so many smaller markets underneath that you can go and have a specific Cheerios conversation that's highly relevant to [consumers]. Whether you want to talk about the folic acid that is in Cheerios, which is a great thing for expectant mothers, [or] if you want to talk about high blood pressure. [Or] if you want to talk about cholesterol for different types of people at different stages of their life.

Ad Age: Give us one or two examples.

Mr. Addicks: Under Betty Crocker we are looking at ways to deliver very specific birthday party ideas that customize by gender, by age, by type of birthday party … We can do the same thing for those other kinds of rituals -- for not only the birthday but half-birthday and monthly birthdays.

For years we marketed to baking season. Now we are marketing to other occasions, like outdoor barbecuing where people want to bring a dessert. We never could see that market, but now we can.

Ad Age: How are you delivering these messages?

Mr. Addicks: Bettycrocker.com and the other core platforms we have: Pillsbury.com; Tablespoon, which is very millennial; Live Better America, which is more boomer; Box Tops For Education, which is the sweet spot of that household transition from kindergarten to first grade where the family rituals change; Que Rica Vida, which really homes in on Hispanic families. All of those will do a combined 250 million visits this year. They involve about 60 million unique families.

Those set of platforms give us a line of sight into a lot of search data in where people are spending their time. We get a lot of community chat, a lot of comments. So it's classic data mining and all done with people's permissions.

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