They are magically delicious -- and all grown up.
Lucky Charms cereal, which for most of its 48-year history has targeted kids, is making a bigger play for adults in a new campaign expected to go national next year. For brand owner General Mills, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow are the adults who as kids grew up with Lucky the Leprechaun and are apparently running back to him in search of some feel-good nostalgia.
The percentage of Lucky Charms consumers who are adults has risen to 45%, said Greg Pearson, the brand's marketing manager. As a result, the brand posted its best volume year ever in fiscal 2012, according to General Mills. Overall, Lucky Charms is now the seventh-largest cold cereal brand, with sales up 5.64% to $252.6 million in the 52 weeks ending Oct. 7, outpacing category-wide growth of 0.83%, according to SymphonyIRI.
"As we've finally seen adults [become] this big a part of our consumption, it really felt like the right time to target them directly," Mr. Pearson said.
The adult campaign kicked off with a TV spot [above] airing regionally showing a woman rediscovering Lucky Charms at her office. She is then transported for a brief moment to Lucky's magical forest, where the animated leprechaun delivers his famous line: "You're always after me Lucky Charms." Her response: "I forgot how good these taste." The ad, by Publicis Groupe 's Saatchi & Saatchi, made its debut in Buffalo, N.Y., Kansas City, Louisville, Ky., and Syracuse, N.Y., and will go national in the next six to 12 months, Mr. Pearson said.
The brand also recently launched an adult-targeted Facebook page, which recalls classic moments in Lucky Charms history, such as the 1992 debut of the rainbow marshmallow. "I was a husky 11 yr old in 1992, so needless to say I remember this being a big deal," said one commenter.
The adult campaign follows moves by other traditional kid-cereal brands to go after older consumers as marketers face more scrutiny about what foods should be advertised to children. Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, for instance, is running ads with Tony the Tiger that target dads. The moves come as companies impose tougher self-regulations aimed at limiting the exposure of certain foods to kids. Walt Disney Co. is also implementing new restrictions on food advertising to children.
Mr. Pearson said Lucky Charms new campaign is not a response to regulatory pressure, but a business move to target a receptive audience. "Forty-five percent of our consumption today is adults and we haven't been talking to them directly," he said. "We just saw it as a big opportunity to leverage this love that they have for this brand and connect with them directly and remind them of how great-tasting the cereal is ." Also, as it is doing with all of its Big G Cereals, General Mills points out that Lucky Charms contains "more whole grain than any other single ingredient." Still, it seems it's those mythical charms -- not the grain -- that is turning on adults, including pop singer Bruno Mars, who recently tweeted this: "(Fun Song w/ Irish accent) 'So if by the time the bar closes and you steal me lucky charms ill follow the rainbow to me pot o' gold.'
To be sure, the cereal is not moving away from kids; the adult ads are an incremental investment. Another new TV spot is geared for children shows kids sneaking into Lucky's vault of charms.
The brand is reprising the "hearts, starts and clovers" jingle (known as "Lucky's Litany") that hadn't been used in more than a decade. Also, in January, the Lucky Charms will include six new "swirled moon" marshmallows for a limited time, which will swim in the bowl alongside the usual hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers, hourglasses, rainbows and "tasty red balloons." That will bring the total number of marshmallow charms to (an unlucky?) 13. The brand pioneered the use of the freeze-dried marshmallows for cereal back in 1963, when the so-called "marbits" were invented by General Mills VP John Holahan a year before the cereal launched.
Although Lucky's appearance has changed over the years, his narrative has remained pretty consistent. Consider this early ad from the 1960s, when Lucky first started running from the kids after his charms.
Lucky, who made his debut as a mascot in 1964, got a brief scare in 1975, when General Mills considered replacing him with something called Waldo the Wizard.
But as luck would have it, the little leprechaun survived unscathed.