A Lot of Dough: Pillsbury Boosts Spending to Get Families Baking Again

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Pillsbury Made at Home campaign
Pillsbury Made at Home campaign Credit: General Mills

Pillsbury has a new marketing plan designed to help the dough brand emerge from a slump that's somewhat self-inflicted and somewhat market-inflicted.

The General Mills brand has seen sales drop in recent years as it scaled back brand support -- the company spent less than $63.1 million on U.S. measured media for Pillsbury last year, a 20.8% drop from 2015, according to an Ad Age Datacenter analysis from Kantar Media. Meanwhile, dough sales for General Mills fell 7% to $1.69 billion in fiscal 2017.

Compare that to the rise of in-store bakeries, up 3.5 percent to 4 percent annually in sales. That category should approach $19.4 billion by 2022, a 40 percent jump from 2012, according to market research firm Mintel.

"In more recent years, we've lost engagement from our heaviest buyers," admits Joanna Hargus, Pillsbury's senior marketing manager. "This is as more families are outsourcing the making of food that they used to make at home."

So Pillsbury's team headed to Kentucky, Tennessee and Iowa to visit some of the brand's "super fans," says Hargus, who joined the Pillsbury team in 2016 after working on sibling brand Yoplait.

Even conducting research that far away from major cities and suburbs was a departure for the brand. But Pillsbury needed to find ways to deepen its connection with small town and rural, often large, families, particularly in the South and Midwest, who tend to buy more of its biscuits, cinnamon rolls and other products.

Pillsbury Doughboy and Team Rules
Pillsbury Doughboy and Team Rules Credit: General Mills

The campaign's key insight came from the homes they visited, which overwhelmingly displayed some sort of "family rules" signs. You know the ones, boards purchased or hand-painted with declarations such as be grateful, laugh often and support each other. Some version appeared in almost 90 percent of the homes Pillsbury visited, Hargus recalls. They were, quite literally, signs from the brand's core consumers that helped shape its "Made at Home" campaign, which broke late this month and will be amplified as the winter holiday season approaches.

Similar signs are now displayed at headquarters and in Pillsbury plants, with lines such as put people first, dream big, laugh often and listen.

Pillsbury is highlighting its core consumer families in the campaign from new creative agency Joan (it previously worked with McCann).

There's also a bit of product news, as the company adds more icing to the cinnamon rolls, which is highlighted in some of the advertising.

Pillsbury billboard in Tennessee
Pillsbury billboard in Tennessee Credit: General Mills

Most people in the ads are real Pillsbury users, Hargus says. While the commercials were shot in Los Angeles, sets included photos and toys from people's homes for an authentic look. There are also biscuit ads running on radio and out-of-home in the Southeast, the brand's first regional push in years.

Other plans include increased media spending, bringing back the Pillsbury Doughboy for the holiday season, adding an inspirational element to its baking contest and working with Habitat for Humanity on renovations, again hammering home the family-at-home theme.

Overall, the company plans to increase media spending on Pillsbury by 30 percent during the upcoming holiday season. Like other General Mills brands, it works with media agency Mindshare.

The Doughboy will return in a TV spot for the first time in about three years, alongside Santa. That ad is set to airing starting the week of Thanksgiving, before both a Doughboy balloon and the man in the red suit appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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