“It looks like little pieces of toast, which is way more convenient than just standing farther away from your regular sized toast.” –Stephen Colbert
That late night joke introduced many people to the newest General Mills cereal to hit the shelves in 15 years – Tiny Toast. Colbert was smitten enough with the boxed product – mini-toast-shaped cereal bites available in real fruit-flavored blueberry and strawberry – that he brought on Chance the Rapper and Skrillex to do a Tiny Toast remix rap.
Jimmy Fallon also had a joke about it, and the cereal even got a thumbs up review from YouTube’s “Cereal Time” (yes, that’s a show about cereal). The buzz extended to other consumer publications and media outlets, giving an organic boost to the product launch.
The news is good for not just General Mills but the entire cereal industry, which has seen a decline in cereal consumption over the last decade. With the buzz around Tiny Toast, perhaps a new generation will get behind the cereal aisle.
General Mills used its brand team and NY agency Walrus to create a uniquely bizarre series of spots to promote the new cereal. “Humans Can’t Resist” ads feature a series of anthropomorphic role reversals. In one, a horse feeds an old woman Tiny Toast out of a feedbag. In another, a hairy-backed man is sheared by a sheep while munching on the cereal. Two other have a seagull trying to guard his Tiny Toast against encroaching humans, and two birds having breakfast as a flying human smacks into the window.
Alan Cunningham, senior marketing manager, cereal innovation, was behind the development of the cereal campaign, which is meant to target teens. Thus, the media buy is 100 per cent mobile for this campaign, courting Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and Spotify users.
“I'll be the first to acknowledge that I don't know if we can make the perfect formula happen every time, but we're sure excited it came together on this one,” said Cunningham regarding the early media buzz on the cereal and the campaign.
Considering General Mills hadn’t launched a new cereal for a decade and a half, it wasn’t an easy decision for the company, and the campaign proved a difficult sell.
“Just to give you some of the rich context within the walls here, the decision to launch a new brand was quite controversial. There was a lot of debate about whether that was the best way to bring what we all believed was a very remarkable product to the market. At the end of the day, we felt like two things were really compelling; two factors that made us want to bring it as a new brand. The first one is, we felt like the product represented a really unique taste profile and benefit. That was a sweet cereal that's flavored with real fruit. We actually felt like it would be easier to get across its position that it really was different, and worth checking out and trying, if it were a new brand. The other reason is more from a target perspective,” he said.
Cunningham explained that young children grow up eating cereal, then eat more cereal as they go through their teens, but they slow down their cereal eating as they age. It isn’t until they have kids that they revisit the cereal aisle with frequency
“It's a pretty interesting cycle. We had a very purposeful goal that said, ‘Hey, we feel like we believe in the role cereal can play to provide, health, and great taste, and convenience in people's lives.’ We gotta go service consumers better, because we hear this frequently from older teens; ‘Yeah, there's little kiddie cereal, and there's my mom and dad's cereal, but there isn't anything that's made for me," he said.
"We wanted to do something unique to try to target these younger adults and millennials with something that they could feel like was for them versus just for their little brother or sister.”
The cereal, with its “Can’t Resist” slogan, has been on the market for three months and Cunningham said that the early signs are encouraging.
“Normally, when you launch a new brand, you get some early trial, and then you have sales start to drift off. That's sort of a normal trend for new items in a mature category. What we've seen is the base sales, the non-promoted sales – which is the best indicator of how much people are liking and are repeating on your product – they've increased over thirty-five per cent in the ten weeks its been in the market. We haven't seen a trend like that in a date I can find, definitely not in the last five years. We're really encouraged by it. Our first priority right now is to continue to build and strengthen this awesome young new brand that we just launched,” added Cunningham.
While early returns are high for the brand, Cunningham and company want to keep the momentum going, so they are concentrating their efforts on digital.
“We're really focusing on our digital spend, and on having a lot of unique content, and a lot of social content. We only feel like we've scratched the surface there. There's a lot more we can do there. I think continuing to expand our campaign is probably step number one. I think the second piece is understanding how your product is performing,” he said.
He acknowledged that it is difficult to bring something new to such an established category, which is why the ads are so far out there and the buy is mostly digital.
“We felt like our campaign had to feel new and different. The reminder is that we were going after young adults. Our focus was delivering them the type of content that they would find engaging and fun, that also cemented some of the personality that we felt like our brand had,” he said.
Working with Walrus helped them get the absurd route they were looking for, and Cunningham praised the agency for its work ethic and its creativity.
“We got just an incredible amount of energy and focus from them. There's just a really cool amount of collaboration. Their chief creative officer, Deacon Webster, and I were on the phone almost daily. There's just a really one-team approach to thinking through how we, together, wanted to build this new brand and breathe life into it. I think they were really able to deliver against that in a great way, and not just give just one piece of creative, but to really provide a campaign with many elements of creative that can all work really well together, and make an idea feel really big and exciting,” he said.
It’s still too early to tell if Tiny Toast will be a smash hit at the supermarket, but so far, repeat sales are high, which is a good trend that, if it continues, should spell good results. General Mills is working on new flavors for Tiny Toast, and is also working to make some cereals gluten free, removing artificial colors and flavors, as well as cutting down on high-fructose corn syrup.
They also may release some of alternate takes and outtakes from the campaign videos, so keep an eye on the Tiny Toast website and social posts.