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Mark Addicks knows the secret to achieving an 8%-plus growth rate in a 58-year-old cereal brand: Personality.

Honing in on the personality of America's favorite cereal was the task of the brand team Mr. Addicks heads as VP of the Cheerios business unit at General Mills. The key to the group's success was balancing the cereal's serious side-its healthy profile-with its more playful one.

"Heart and head," says Mr. Addicks. "We remapped the brand to find out what is the critical moment when the consumer bonds with the brand the brand."

The result indicated separate ad approaches for each of Cheerios' many consumers, who stay with the brand, as Mr. Addicks says, "from cradle to grave."

"We had new advertising aimed at key targets," he says, from kid-oriented spots pushing Cheerios' muscle-building power, spots touting its cholesterol-lowering prowess to adults and a separate campaign aimed at Hispanics and African-Americans.

"We wanted to intimately know our target and have a relationship with them," says Mr. Addicks.

Building that relationship involved everything from redesigning the box with a heart-shaped bowl on the front of its familiar yellow box and heartwarming personal stories from Cheerios fans on the back.

Balancing that were proprietary health messages, including a talked-about campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, that used a father and daughter discussing Cheerios' ability to reduce cholesterol.

Big G also put its money where it's mouth is.

"Counter to the [cereal market] trend, we've increased our spending on Cheerios," he says.

Its measured ad spending alone on the base brand was $40 million in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Other efforts include everything from funding clinical studies on cholesterol reduction to distributing promotional items and the top-selling "Cheerios Play Book" from Simon & Schuster.

All fueled sales of the flagship line-not including extensions such as Honey Nut Cheerios or Team Cheerios-to jump 8.9% to $319.6 million, outpacing the growth rate of all other cereals in the top 20.

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