Making the man-child matter: How Cap’n Crunch found its real audience

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If you're a certain kind of baby boomer, you may have enjoyed the relatively care-free 70s and 80s staying up ‘til all hours, larking about and hitting the kitchen cupboards around midnight on the hunt for chocolate bars, toast and jam and, in my case, huge bowls of cereal. I still have all the free merchandise today - playing cards, breakfast bowls, yo-yo's etc.

But, of course I wasn't the target market - it was at least 15 years younger and running around in short trousers. But the nocturnal insight is exactly what gave Cap’n Crunch in the US the idea to reposition their brand for the millennial male audience who consume the product late at night while playing video games!

The stand-out presentation at iCrossing's Client Summit in Scottsdale Arizona last week came from Jessica Spaulding of Cap’n Crunch with comedy publisher, Funny or Die. Instead of the usual 30 second spot aimed at their assumed core audience, insights revealed that all the social conversation was driven by millennial males, having a laugh about the brand, even making models of Cap’n Crunch, and celebrating the brand as part of their own social currency. In fact 60% of Cap’n Crunch consumers were identified as young adults - the so-called 'man-child' segment.

What resulted from media and creative planning sessions with iCrossing and Funny or Die was a comic parody of The Today Show, called The Earliest Show, anchored by two genuine celebrity fans of Cap’n Crunch, Ben Schwartz (House of Lies) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black). The time-shifted show played at night and is full of mad features, spoof TV ads, and banter with the producer - the sort of content that if you were 25, on a good night hanging about with your mates, you'd be chewing the carpet with laughter. And for some extra comic pathos, a running theme is Schwarz’s very public love break-up on air.

The six, 10-minutes shows achieved over 40 million views on YouTube, with segments, spoofs and gags edited for social channels, planned through iCrossing. A full 60 minutes of out-takes proved incredibly popular – that’s dwell-time for you. It’s a real masterstroke in repositioning by a brave brand. Although Spaulding did admit that there was a list of some 50 words The Earliest Show hosts were banned from uttering - can't think what they were!

This resounding success is what modern marketing is all about: in a consumer to brand world, it pays to start with the end customer and make content that becomes part of their conversation. And in this case the Cap’n Crunch brand became hilarious social currency.

As for me, and satisfying the munchies with copious amounts of cereal at midnight – I’ll simply quote the immortal the words of Basil Fawlty and say that’s 'an avenue of pleasure that has been closed off to me'. But it strikes me, that while cereal manufacturers in the UK can't actively market to kids, they might want to monitor the social buzz around their brands and consider the nocturnal man-child market.

Stressing that it's all part of a balanced diet, of course.

Guy Phillipson is chairman of iCrossing UK and former chief executive officer of the Internet Advertising Bureau, UK

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