Breakfast cereal is at a turning point. Whereas a bowl of cornflakes was once a breakfast staple, consumers are increasingly bypassing the cereal bowl. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that nearly 40 percent of the Millennials surveyed by the research firm Mintel said cereal was "an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it."
Cereal companies therefore need to find a way to stay relevant when many people today grab portable breakfasts like a sandwich or yogurt on their way out the door. General Mills' Cinnamon Toast Crunch has responded with tongue-in-cheek marketing campaigns that reflect cultural trends, such as a Selfie Spoon. The cereal brand's latest campaign features the Cinnamon Toast Cruiser, which looks like a hybrid Segway and hoverboard with a cereal bowl attached to it.
1to1 Media caught up with General Mills Associate Marketing Manager Mark Chu to discuss his team's latest invention and strategy for engaging Millennial consumers. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation. For more, check out a podcast of the interview on SoundCloud.
1to1 Media: What was your objective in creating the Cinnamon Toast Cruiser and where did the idea come from?
Mark Chu: The Cruiser is an idea we had to join in on the popularity of hover boards. What we wanted to do was create something that we thought was fun and interesting. And also capitalize on the trend that a lot of Millennials don't eat breakfast because it takes too long. The agency we worked with [McCann] came up with this idea of creating a hover board with a bowl attached to it so people can cruise and eat at the same time.
Did you have any concerns about the reports of exploding hoverboards?
We certainly talked about it as a teamand this was just a fun way to join the public conversation. We did pause though and think about the recent issues of hoverboards. We made sure to work closely with the manufacturer and verify that the battery would not be the same ones that were causing problems.
So far five cruisers have been created. What results have you seen and are there any plans to make it available for the public to purchase?
It's too early to tell in terms of success. But we have lead indicators and a couple of lead measures that show we're off to a good start in terms of PR pickup and video views. I think people are talking about it in a way we want them to, like are they serious? That's the reaction we were hoping for. In terms of making them available for purchase, they're not available at this moment. [But] part of the strategy is not knowing how things will end.
You've also made other products like the Selfie-Spoon. Can you talk about the process behind coming up with ideas like these?
Our approach is to work with our agency and find trends that seemingly have nothing to do with cereal and see if we're able to put an interesting spin on it. That's our attempt to break into culture and stand for something beyond just a great tasting cereal. So, what we found works takes a lot of agility and responsiveness because we can't plan out what will be on trend or what will be going viral in the next two to three months, so we have to be very responsive. [For example] the selfie stick had been around for a while and we found an interesting way to put our spin on it. That's the approach we take. We are looking for things that have nothing to do with our cereal and seeing how we can join the conversation on them.
What ages are the majority of your customers and what percentage of your customer base consists of Millennials?
[Our customer base is] about half [Millennials] and half [people under age 18] which might be a surprise to people given that Cinnamon Toast Crunch can be perceived as a kid's cereal. But certainly these marketing activations with the selfie stick and the Cinnamon Toast Cruiser are targeted to Millennial consumers.
Your department seems to have a lot of room to experiment. Are there any insights or lessons that you can share?
One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that marketers often talk about [corporate] culture but it often becomes a buzzword. What it boils down to is if I can get everything else done in my business, then I can work on culture. With our team, we've done a nice job of making sure our culture is central to our strategy, who we are as a team and as a brand. Working at a big company, that's the only way you're going to get enough attention and resources.
And as we think about traditional ways of measuring campaigns, it was always very linear, very straightforward, whereas some of these campaigns are forcing our measurement team to rethink how we recognize success for campaigns that aren't as linear or straightforward. Our team is working to rethink how we measure success.
How do you measure success?
That's a work in progress. I don't have an answer today, but hopefully soon from a corporate standpoint we'll be able to get a tighter idea on what the framework is for measuring these campaigns. Some of the lead measures are getting PR pickup, getting people talking about it in a way that we want them to, enticing people to think of our brand as a cereal or in a completely different way, and giving it personality. After that we're still trying to figure out the framework to measure the campaigns as a whole.