Editorial: 'Got cereal?' plan is OK with limits

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The big players in ready-to-eat cereals are willing to try some new ideas, as shown by our report last week on their plans for a $50 million generic campaign to boost cereal consumption. So long as they don't lose sight of the need to promote brands, this is commendable open-mindedness. It's also pragmatic, given the fall in ready-to-eat cereal category sales in recent years. Though individual cereal marketers go up or down depending on their success in a particular year, the much-discussed changing breakfast habits of Americans stand to keep draining revenue and profits from the category.

Kellogg Co., now No. 2 in cereals behind General Mills, has been mulling category promotion ideas, in conjunction with specific brand promotions, since at least mid-2000. At that time, it partnered with Albertson's and Kroger Co. in a small test of Breakfastland, an in-store promotion. Now General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods' Post division and PepsiCo's Quaker Oats Co. have created a cereal consortium (don't call it a cartel; trustbusters might have a problem). Its first campaign, said to be from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Suissa Miller, Los Angeles, could break in early spring.

The generic campaign is inspired by the dairy industry's long-running and high-profile "Got milk?" ads. Skeptics note the "Got Milk?" ads have not sent fluid milk sales soaring. Defenders counter that the swoon in milk consumption has been halted.

Busy Americans may well need an entertaining reminder that breakfast is important and that cereal and milk are a quick, nourishing and even fun solution. It's good for cereal makers to think outside the box. But cereal marketers should not forget that generic promotion is no cure-all, and that well-funded brand promotion, smart pricing strategy and continuous product innovation are what ultimately determine which marketer in the cereal aisle gets a bowl full of profit.

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