Brand Purpose Drives Digital At General Mills

Consumer brands’ digital spend on a percentage basis is no longer single digits, as it was, say, seven years ago. It's 24% of spend now. That's $48 billion per year. The medium has certainly changed the message, but has it changed the brand? Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills, argues that it had better not. "Brand fundamentals matter now more than ever,” he said, speaking at AdAge’s digital conference in New York on Tuesday.

If General Mills' digital marketing strategy for its portfolio of CPG brands has as many colors as a spectrum, the light source hasn't changed since TV. "The old brand briefing for commercials is especially important in the digital world," he said. The major difference is engagement. "We used to talk viewer reward; now, we need to talk about participant reward. That leads to a natural, rich dialogue." 

General Mills starting pushing the idea of brand purpose about a year ago, asking teams for its portfolio of CPG brands what the brand exists to do. With Betty Crocker, for example, the company is taking its heritage “making a house a home”  identity to interactive content-driven execution, but in a way that addressing what’s happening now. The brand has gone to LGBT events around the country with an experiential/digital program around with the idea that the brand loves all families, and all families can make a home. 

Addicks also made the point -- one most marketers have understood for a while -- that the only way to succeed in the protean digital landscape is to be nimble. And the only way to do that is to have a marketing culture open to experimentation and flexibility. Like many other brands, General Mills created a brand lab and is testing new brands and marketing them on purpose-specific channels.

Nibblr is one result: a customizable snack brand where, via Amazon subscription, consumers can create their own snacks. "With purpose, you can get to whole new business models," he said. The lab is "a powerful way to source content; we wanted to show we could grow a brand, take learnings and accelerate the process." The company started with its Kix cereal brand, going digital to address both Hispanic and suburban audiences, manning the lab team with editors, brand and data strategists. The company also created its own ad network, Plateful, distributing to over 200 sites.  

Globally, the company does a first-Wednesday marketing meeting broadcast to teams in 17 countries, with speakers who come in to be provocative, and comment on what they think the company’s brands are doing wrong and right. Addicks said the company is also talking to global marketing teams via mobile video, putting campaign cases on phones. "We are resetting training, followed by other immersions built on the idea of challenging people to see very best of what's out there, and to understand that in terms of core values and expectations."

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