ANA 2008

General Mills CMO Cheerleads for 'Brand Champions'

Addicks Stresses Importance of Consumer Input

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- The first thing marketers need to do upon returning from the Association of National Advertisers conference? Make sure you know who your brand champions are, instructed Mark Addicks, chief marketing officer at General Mills.
Mark Addicks
Mark Addicks Credit: Art Beaulieu

In the past, General Mills had been more internally than externally focused. But looking outside the company has helped it brand better, he said, citing its acquisition of Pillsbury as a catalyst for rethinking best practices. That acquisition nearly a decade ago forced the marketer to "kick open the windows and rethink this thing called branding."

Consumer composite
One result is that General Mills has been defining a "brand champion" for each of its labels. That fictional champion is given a face and a name -- Josh, for example, in the case of Fruit by the Foot -- and embodies the target consumer's worldview, habits, likes and dislikes.

"Working with our brand champions is less about us getting [consumers] to believe something and more about us enabling them to tell us where the brand should go, what it should be, what role it plays in their life," Mr. Addicks said. "Open up these brands, and let consumers tell you, 'Here's where you can go, here's what you can say, here's what you should be doing.'"

Mr. Addicks said that understanding its brand champions meant recognizing that Pillsbury consumers today are looking for a safe haven in a shaky economy. He previewed the first of a series of spots that will emphasize home and eating at home. The spot, "Home Is Calling," features people in a variety of settings clicking their heels in "Wizard of Oz" fashion. The spot closes around a little girl clicking her heels and opening her eyes to find herself at home with her family and a basket of warm crescent rolls on the table.

Redefining 'ad campaign'
Mr. Addicks, moreover, encouraged attendees to "challenge this notion of what a campaign is today." General Mills, for example, has been delving into the digital space with blogs that seek to engage consumers, as well as platforms like eatbetteramerica.com.

The company has also been rethinking its packaging. "A lot of our packages might have come off a hardware-store shelf," he admitted. Not so today. Cascadian Farm packages now picture the Cascade Mountains in Washington. And Multi-Grain Cheerios' curved box -- a picture of a tape measure is wrapped around the middle -- hits home the message of weight management.
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