General Mills Marketing Goes Up in Smoke With Pot-Linked Brownie Pitch

Cheech & Chong's Latest Epic Adventure Takes a Boomer Twist

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General Mills might have unlocked the secret for reaching Baby Boomers: pot brownies!

OK, before you spit up your Cheerios, the family-friendly food giant isn't actually selling marijuana-spiked brownies, or directly promoting them. Rather, General Mills makes a fun-loving reference to every hippie's favorite dessert in a new digital campaign for Fiber One 90-calorie brownies starring none other than Cheech and Chong.

The pot-loving duo star in an online video trailer for what appears to be a movie called "Magic Brownie Adventure," a typical Cheech and Chong misadventure in which they seek to deliver "thousands of magic brownies to Flaming Pole," a Burning-Man like festival on the West Coast.

Here's the kicker: When they finally get there, towing the treats in a wheel barrel, they find out that the brownies are filled with another kind of weed -- fiber. "Because now that you are getting older, you need a new kind of magic from your brownie," intones the announcer, plugging the brownies, which General Mills introduced in June.

The movie, of course, is a fake, serving as the centerpiece for a digital-only campaign by Publicis Modem aimed at reaching Baby Boomers. "It was an effort to reach boomers online in a fun and humorous way, leveraging the nostalgia from the 60s and 70s in tying that to the benefits of fiber," said Kerry DeLaney, associate marketing manager Fiber One. "As people are getting older the magic in the brownies of yesterday have transformed into something more relevant today."

And it's getting plenty of attention, even without much of a public-relations push. The trailer -- which debuted about a week ago on YouTube, the brand's Facebook page and a micro site -- has gotten about 83,000 views so far, Mr. DeLaney said. On Friday, General Mills paid for a promoted tweet that generated a 15.8% engagement rate (meaning 15.8% of viewers clicked on the link).

The campaign -- which includes five videos profiling various aspects of the "film" -- was also promoted with banner ads on Yahoo's "Vitality" web page, a partnership between the internet company and General Mills aimed at boomers.

General Mills, the normally conservative keeper of righteous brand icons such as Betty Crocker and the Jolly Green Giant, jumped at the idea when Modem brought it their way. The pitch came during a General Mills process called Bold Experiments, a contest in which brands compete for a set-aside marketing budget for new ideas. The company, Mr. DeLaney said, is "looking at brands to try new things. There are different ways to do things more boldly. This was just one way that we found was a good fit."

Of course, without Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, the idea would've gone nowhere. Because, really, who else could've pulled this off? "We didn't have to do much persuading," Mr. DeLaney said. "They loved the idea from the beginning."

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