Why You Won't See Michael Phelps on the Wheaties Box

Kellogg Signs Swimmer Before Big G's Traditional Unveiling

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In a PR masterstroke, Kellogg Co. managed to spoil an every-four-year tradition for General Mills -- the unveiling of Olympians to grace the Wheaties box. By the time Big G made its big announcement today, Kellogg had already one-upped the news by revealing that it signed the biggest of them all, Michael Phelps.
Kellogg Co. has tapped Michael Phelps for its Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes boxes.
Kellogg Co. has tapped Michael Phelps for its Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes boxes.

The Battle Creek, Mich., marketer said last week it had tapped Mr. Phelps for its Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes boxes. Because Kellogg wrapped the swimmer in an exclusive deal (for an undisclosed sum), its competitor instead signed gymnast Nastia Liukin and decathlete Brian Clay.

Of course, neither gold-medal-winning athlete would be a slouch in any other Olympic year. But Mr. Phelps is riding an almost unprecedented wave of publicity. He has, for instance, agreed to appear on "Saturday Night Live" and MTV's Video Music Awards. Even his mother Debbie has attracted interest from Chico's, a women's retailer.

More cash at Kellogg
"Michael Phelps will not appear on a Wheaties box this year," General Mills spokeswoman Shelly Dvorak wrote via e-mail in response to a question as to whether the company had approached him with the opportunity. "But we were honored to welcome him into the Wheaties family four years ago, in 2004."

Kellogg certainly had the bigger pool of cash with which to lure Mr. Phelps. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Kellogg spent $11 million in measured media on Frosted Flakes alone in 2007. By comparison, General Mills' outlay for Wheaties was about $114,000.

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett handles creative for Frosted Flakes. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, has Wheaties.

"As an official sponsor of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team, it is only fitting that Kellogg Company feature a world-class athlete like Michael Phelps on its iconic boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereals," Kellogg spokeswoman Suzanne Norwitz said in an e-mail.

She declined to comment about how the deal was crafted and what role Mr. Phelps might play in the company's overall health-and-wellness initiatives.

Embodies values
Marta Cyhan, VP-global promotions at Kellogg, however noted that Mr. Phelps "embodies the values behind" the company's Earn Your Stripes program, an initiative it has used to promote physical activity, despite the sugary content of its flagship cereal. "He knows that winning is not just about the glory that comes with gold medals, but about good sportsmanship, working hard and being your best," she said.

In making its announcement this morning, General Mills focused on Ms. Liukin, highlighting that she is the third American winner of the women's all-around gymnastics competition to appear on the box.

"Every young athlete aspires to one day see their face on the cover of the Wheaties box," Ms. Liukin said in a statement. "It's been a huge inspiration to see great gymnastics champions on the box, like Mary Lou and Carly, plus the 'Magnificent Seven' from 1996. It's a privilege and an honor for me to be on the box, and I'm very excited to be part of the Wheaties tradition."

Retton back in spotlight, too
To stir up additional excitement, the company went so far as to bring Mary Lou Retton back into the spotlight. "I'm so thrilled for all of our athletes, but in particular to see Nastia take the gold in the all-around and now get her own Wheaties box," Ms. Retton said in a statement. "Wheaties is arguably the first and still one of the foremost brand images in all of sports. It's an honor for any athlete to be on the box and more than anything it epitomizes what it means to be a true champion."

In addition to his eight gold medals, Mr. Phelps has an enviable list of sponsors, including McDonald's, Visa and Kellogg. And it's likely more deals are in the works.
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