Monday, September 21, 2009

Screw up your Brand

Laura Ries takes on General Mills:

The Pitfalls of Misdirected Packaging

Never overlook the power and importance of packaging. It is the last chance for a consumer to say yes or no to your brand. You may have done an excellent job with your brand name, PR, word-of-mouth and advertising, but if that last piece of the puzzle (the package) doesn’t fit into the consumer’s mind, you are out of luck. No sale.

Strong brands in leadership positions should also not overlook the power of packaging. Too often instead of reinforcing its core strength a leader tries to use its package to extend its brand.

Big mistake. This is type of misdirected message is confusing to consumers who after hearing about a brand, reading about a brand and growing accustomed to a brand are perplexed by the change of message.

When consumers get to the shelf, the package should simply, clearly and emphatically reinforce what the brand stands for in the mind. Not doing this is tantamount to brand treason.

Nothing exemplifies this better than Cheerios. And no case of packaging misdirection infuriates me more. The entire Cheerios package is completely contradictory to what the brand is all about.


What is Cheerios?

If you have kids, know people who have kids or were ever a kid yourself then it is clear, Cheerios are a kid’s first food.

Cheerios represent simple, wholesome goodness that parents feel proud to serve as their child’s first solid food. Babies happily gobble them up by the fistful. No parent would dare leave the house without a Ziploc bag filled with them.

Until they experience crap like Coco Puffs Kids usually love Cheerios. But once kids go Coco, it’s hard to get them back. Which is why parents usually cling to the goodness and innocence of Cheerios as long as they can.

I don’t have the numbers, but I would imagine that the majority of heavy Cheerios buyers have children under 8 years old.

Yet when you take a look at the package there is no indication that a kid has ever had one. The entire package is devoted to telling you how Cheerios can lower cholesterol.


Kids don’t even get tested for cholesterol. Parents want their kids to eat healthy with lots of whole grains but cholesterol isn’t the issue, sugar is. I know our kids are getting fat, come on. Nobody is thinking how to lower their kindergartners cholesterol.

Yet in huge letters on the box, right under the Cheerios name, the Cheerios brand message is:

“helps lower cholesterol”

What!?! Have you gone cuckoo over at Cheerios?

First-time parents have been told for generations to feed Cheerios to their babies, yet these moms get to the shelf, they find a box that says: “Helps lower cholesterol, 10% in one month.” Any exhausted mother would shake her head and say, huh. This sounds like grub for grandma not a baby. I’m not buying that!

If Cheerios are good for babies, they are good for adults. I get that. And I have been known to eat many handfuls of Cheerios out of my kids bowls and Ziploc bags over the years. But Cheerios is not an adult food, Cheerios is a kid food. Thinking otherwise is foolish. Saying so in big letters on the box is foolish. Ignoring your biggest and best fans is foolish.

Not to mention if you really wanted to lower cholesterol there are much better ways of doing it than by eating Cheerios. Cholesterol is not and will never be the main selling point of Cheerios.

The arrogance of leadership is that what you have is often overlooked for what you don’t have and mistakenly think you can get. We got the kids, let’s get the adults. We got the women, let’s get the men. We got the high-end, let’s get the low-end. We got the regular market, let’s get the diet market.

Never overlook your position in the mind. And always reinforce it right there in on the box. Consumers like husbands, aren’t stupid, but a big reminder on the box and a hit over the head doesn’t hurt.

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