GENERAL MILLS TURNS CEREAL LEPRECHAUN INTO MOVIE STAR

Campaign Credited With Boosting Lucky Charms Sales

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The deal: Hoping to boost sales, General Mills turned Lucky the leprechaun from mere mascot to movie star.

The result: The icon’s ubiquity in unique places has helped drive up sales 12% over the last year.



Lucky the leprechaun is ready to go A-list in Hollywood, as General Mills has turned to the cereal icon to help jump-start its business.
Once a mere package logo, General Mills' Lucky the leprechaun now attends Hollywood celebrity fests.



Already, Lucky stars in his own animated Web series, has appeared in his own virally spread spoof of “The Italian Job” and hobnobbed with socialite Paris Hilton.

Sales boost

Boosting Lucky’s presence among consumers through entertainment is already starting to pay off: The character’s ubiquity in unique places has successfully helped vault General Mills’ sales of Lucky Charms cereal by 12% compared with last year.

As its spending in traditional media declines, stodgy old General Mills is increasingly turning to sexier marketing means, such as viral pushes, celebrity seeding and interactive online efforts.

According to Credit Suisse analyst Dave Nelson in a recent note, General Mills’ ad spending overall has fallen from 4.8% of its gross sales in fiscal 2002 to 3.3% in fiscal 2005. In cereal, spending has fallen 15% since 2003.

The company’s branded entertainment efforts for Lucky Charms is the result of a mandate from General Mills' chief marketing officer, Mark Addicks, and VP-advertising, Doug Moore, to break the traditional marketing mold for all of its brands.

Cellphone experiments

Mr. Addicks said marketing budgets overall for General Mills’ major brands are going up but a bigger share is being spent on “nontraditional and new media approaches” to engage consumers. In addition to its many Internet initiatives, Mr. Addicks said General Mills is testing efforts to reach out to consumers via their cellphones on behalf a variety of its adult-targeted brands, tests that should be extended into national efforts by its next fiscal year.

But there was some hesitancy.

Pete Johnson, hired from the Cartoon Network to serve as senior VP-group creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi less than a year ago, said that initially General Mills executives were a "little nervous and scared since this is not the business they’re in.”

Mr. Johnson worked with Eric Lucas, VP-marketing of the Big G cereal division, and interactive agenc, Cossette, Toronto, and package design-firm Baker Associates, Minneapolis, to develop five animated Webisodes called “The Quest” -- a collection of stories about Lucky’s adventures in his Magical Realm -- for the main Lucky Charms site that launched in September.

Inexpensive Webisodes

Mr. Johnson said the “very inexpensive” effort logged 400,000 visitors in the first 10 days and more than 1 million impressions over the last four months for far less money than a 30-second spot.

Separately, General Mills enlisted Rogers & Cowan, Los Angeles, to send gift baskets of new Chocolate and Berry Lucky Charms as well as Lucky himself to hobnob with celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Tori Spelling and Ms. Hilton at gift lounges and other events tied around such award shows as the Golden Globes in January. The appearances of the mascot with Hollywood talent landed the brand on entertainment news shows “Extra” and “Access Hollywood” and in weekly publications like "Star."

Meanwhile, Saatchi tapped viral agency Asabailey last year to seed a Web movie called “The Irish Job” that starred the leprechaun and spoofed the hit film “The Italian Job.” In it, Lucky tries to escape his pursuers in a car with a box of Lucky Charms in the seat next to him.

The film was initially sent to a sample of 250,000 college students and 20-somethings in the U.S. who were asked to virally send it to others after viewing it.

Negative blogger reaction

But online reactions among bloggers were mixed, if not mostly negative. As the blog Random Culture put it: “It isn't interesting or entertaining at all, and the only reason I'm even mentioning it here is because it's lame. ‘The Irish Job’ illustrates the common misconception that you can slap a ‘send-to-a-friend’ functionality on a video and have a viral marketing campaign. Thank God that they're sending e-mail to 250,000 people ... because the viral spread beyond that will be pathetic.”

General Mills isn’t giving up, however, and is taking what it has learned with Lucky for other brands and has launched entertaining endeavors to promote its products.

The company is again using Asabailey to help virally spread the word about its new episodic “soup opera” for Progresso at homesweetcube.com, a site created by Publicis Dialog that kicked off Feb. 9, and promotes the company’s microwaveable bowls. The project follows a quirky crew of officemates.

Yoplait yogurt for the second year gathers a group of women whose journey toward health and fitness can be followed on SoGoodGirls.com. And the Pillsbury Dough Boy dances at Pillsbury.com, and appears in bloopers of Dough Boy ads.
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