General Mills is deploying a new weapon in its battle with Kellogg Co. for breakfast dollars: a quirky German boy who comes from a mythical island called Breakfürg. The character, named Hans Strudel, will star in new ads for Toaster Strudel that Brand Manager John Williams characterized as "one of the largest campaigns that we will have within the company."
Strudel, which is part of the marketer's Pillsbury portfolio, has already been getting significant support in recent years with measured media spending of roughly $35 million in both 2011 and in 2012, according to Kantar Media. But sales of the 27-year-old frozen breakfast pastry brand have sagged a bit of late, falling by 1.1% to $204 million in the 52 weeks ending July 14, according to IRI.
By contrast, sales of Kellogg's Pop Tarts grew 5.0% to $668 million in the same period. And that figure does not include line extensions such as the new "Gone Nutty" peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter varieties, which launched in the spring and have already reached nearly $10 million in sales, according to IRI. An ad by Leo Burnett features an animated Pop Tart character swimming in a peanut butter spa bath.
Toaster Strudel is fighting back with the lederhosen-clad Hans, who in a TV ad debuting Monday busts down the door of an American family at breakfast time. "Toaster Strudel … ya?" Hans says, offering a plate of warm Toaster Strudels, accompanied by flying pastries, a deer and a squirrel. The campaign, which is by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, carries the tagline "Get Zem Göing."
The effort is the latest example of the rise in popularity of brand mascots, an old-school approach that has gained new life as marketers use digital media to create rich storylines not possible in the past, when characters were confined to TV. Toaster Strudel, for instance, is timing the new campaign with the launch of its first Twitter and Facebook accounts.
While Hans is Strudel's first character – and the Pillsbury division's first mascot since the Doughboy's birth in 1965 – he is rooted in the brand's history, Mr. Williams said. The brand's first-ever ad featured a German baker, he pointed out.
"When you think about Strudel … you think of Bavaria, you think of Germany," Mr. Williams said. He described Hans as a "fun quirky, young boy" who brings Strudel "to help with the hectic part of the morning to help get the morning moving." The campaign will also highlight Strudel's do-it-yourself icing pack, which fits the rising customization trend.
An event in late August in New York City will feature a custom-built Strudel Düdeler that will translate consumer tweets into artwork on actual Strudels. Other agencies working on the campaign include Olson for PR, Bromley for content strategy and Frwd of Minneapolis for social.
Mr. Williams declined to share the campaign's budget, other than to say the effort will take the brand to "the next level," exceeding last year's outlays.
The investment comes as General Mills and Kellogg Co. seek new ways to engage consumers at breakfast time as cold cereal sales continue to fall. Both companies have looked beyond the bowl with new products such as breakfast shakes. Kellogg calls its shake Kellogg's To Go, while General Mills has branded its shake Bfast. Kellogg has also launched Special K Nourish Hot Cereal that is described as a "multi-grain blend of superfoods like quinoa, oats, wheat and barley with essential vitamins."
When quizzed about declining cereal sales during an earnings call on Thursday, Kellogg CEO John Bryant reaffirmed the company's commitment to the category, noting that "the breakfast occasion is, in general, growing, particularly here in the U.S. And within breakfast, cereal has the single largest share." But he added that part of the company's strategy is to "leverage our strong cereal brands into other formats to meet consumer needs at that breakfast occasion."