'It's the ideas, stupid': Kellogg roars back with out of box ads

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A sign on the wall in Mark Baynes' office reminds the VP-marketing for Kellogg Co.'s Morning Foods Division what has driven Kellogg's bold return to the No. 1 position in cereal and what is keeping it there: "It's about ideas, Stupid."

When Kellogg stated publicly in early 2001 that it had for the first time slipped behind longtime rival General Mills in cereal sales, the wheels were already spinning on a turnaround plan. That plan included at its core a challenge to create more compelling brand-differentiating advertising. Three years later, Kellogg is back on top with recent quarterly sales showing its cereal brands up a healthy 4%, a noteworthy achievement amidst widespread consumer interest in low-carb diets.

With its Publicis Groupe agency partner Leo Burnett Worldwide, it continues to push the boundaries of traditional cereal advertising, boundaries it as much as defined. Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smart Start, Apple Jacks and Frosted Flakes were all repositioned recently with campaigns that aim to lure new users with relevant, emotional messages that Mr. Baynes credits to a newly strengthened internal brand team, as well as to Burnett.


"We no longer live in a world where we can show people sitting around the table and run five or six pullouts of the same advertising," Mr. Baynes said. "The problem historically is that information about cereal has been presented in an incredibly flat way whereas things like Hallmark ads, which drive an emotion, are always going to be far more effective."

John Sheehy, exec VP on the Kellogg account at Burnett, said Kellogg's mandate to get back to fundamentals with basic positioning work, communication briefs and brand strategy on even its oldest brands has "given us a canvas to offer much more creative business ideas." He also credits the collaborative new brand team for helping to drive engaging programs he said are "starting to pay dividends."

Out of the dark ages

Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin said Kellogg has "finally come out of the dark ages" with its ad messages. One example is Special K. With its two-week, 6-pound weight-loss challenge conceived in 2001, (along with innovation for the brand, such as the addition of dried strawberries) Kellogg turned Special K into a major growth driver for the company. The momentum continued by extending the message with new creative. Recent ads humorously explain what six pounds really look like by adding slabs of steaks, baked potatoes and a yellow pages book onto a scale.

Frosted Mini-Wheats advertising was also updated from the longtime Mr. Mini-Wheats campaign that Mr. Baynes said "talked about a nutritious duality that really applies to all cereal." To make it relevant, he said, the team took research that showed how two out of three adults were not eating enough fiber and the fact that Frosted Mini-Wheats offers a tasty way to get 25% of daily fiber needs and turned it into something surprisingly funny. In the campaign that kicked off in January, a fiber evangelist solicits strangers not to "fear the fiber" and convinces two construction workers to join him in a round of "Ummm, fiber." As a result of the efforts, Mr. Baynes said the brand is up "strong double digits."

Smart Start ads feature icons such as Lauren Hutton and John McEnroe to express its role in aging successfully to older baby boomers. And kids' businesses Apple Jacks and Froot Loops have soared from new extendable story line ideas that dovetail with Web sites and package promotions. Those initiatives helped drive "runaway success" for Kellogg's kids cereal business last year," Mr. Baynes said.

The most recent example is a new effort for Frosted Flakes that steers away from Tony the Tiger's typical antics where he would "do something dumb and succeed despite himself," Mr. Baynes said. New work positions Frosted Flakes as a brand that helps kids be their best. The tagline is "Earn your stripes." Mr. Baynes notes that's just what Kellogg has to continue to do, too, as competitors nip at its heels with renewed brand efforts of their own.

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