September 2023

Inflation, Fragmentation, Misinformation, Oh My!: General Mills' Modernized Media Plan | MediaPost September 2023

Inflation, Fragmentation, Misinformation, Oh My!: General Mills’ Modernized Media Plan

It is hard to name a company identified with wholesome comfort food traditions more than General Mills. They are of course responsible for some of the iconic brands of the last century, and this one — from Cheerios to Betty Crocker, Green Giant to Pillsbury and Yoplait.

But the traditional CPG space in particular is battling challenges on multiple fronts in recent years – from media fragmentation to inflation, brand sameness to misinformation.

We explored the full menu with Lisa Roebuck, Global Media Director, General Mills. Lisa knows well how to use big media to move big brands. Before joining General Mills early last year. She spent a number of years at Coca-Cola.

MediaPost: How are you as a media buyer and planner, as a marketer, experiencing and responding to inflationary pressures? 

Lisa Roebuck: What we’re really leaning in on is the fact that it’s harder to attract consumers now based on price. And we need to give consumers a reason to believe in our products and making sure that that is coming through front and center in our communications, both at shelf in the brick and mortars, and on the digital shelf. We think about consumers’ daily lives, and really knowing how to speak to them and with them on their terms. We’re looking for media choices that are going to do just that versus throwing an offer at them. We have to know the signals of consumers, and when to deliver that type of message that is more incentive based versus a message that is more brand building or equity based and giving consumers a reason to believe and not to put price aside, but to give them reason to buy and really lend that value exchange. What can our brands and our products deliver over and above the others out there because it does become a bit of a sea of sameness. We’re experiencing a bit of that within our cereal category as well as our brands like Old El Paso. It’s not a trend. It’s something that we will just have to continue to be challenged with.

MP: Have there been major trends or shifts in your media allocations over the last couple of years? Are we seeing certain channels that are heating up that are cooling down? 

Roebuck: I think the major shifts that we’re seeing are really in that video consumption. We’re seeing a lot more digital video consumption. While linear continues to own the lion’s share of video consumption, there is a much larger shift into the premium online video space. We are very mindful of that. And even when we think about our video investment, we look at it more holistically now. I think platforms like TikTok, that are growing at pace, and will likely continue to grow. It’s about optimizing where we’re spending our money. And looking at video as less of a screen and looking at more screen agnostic and understanding how consumers are actually consuming it. Digital audio is also a very powerful way to reach consumers and really delivers that sonic identity of our brand. 

But I will tell you we’re seeing a resurgence of some of the more traditional media. Even out of home is having a comeback. And print as well in some in some instances. We haven’t completely walked away from those types of channels that really can help deliver impact, and still deliver against a large portion of our consumers, who are still wanting to have more of a lean back experience and have that tangible print, or that out of home that we can really deliver huge impact. It might not have the impact in terms of ROI but an impact on how our brand is coming across visibly in a very crowded space. That can be pretty powerful.

MP: Let’s talk out of example. Are there any particular campaigns you might look forward to or point to that sort of illustrate this shifting perspective?

Roebuck: I would say, first and foremost, the launch of the NFL season, We have several brands who are embracing the football culture and really leaning into that to help ritualize some of our brands within game day, both pre during and post-game day. Brands like Old El Paso, and also Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Really excited about some custom partnerships that you’ll see come to life through our partnership with Thursday Night Football. It’s really bringing Cinnamon Toast Crunch to the forefront. And we’re creating some custom content integrations that are fitting with the environment of both pregame, pre-kick and in-game. You’ll see variations of that custom content, and a moonlighting of our famous Cinemogy. 

MP: This is a brand I would never associate with football. Old El Paso yes, but Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

Roebuck: We’re really, we’re really excited about the opportunity here for Cinnamon Toast Crunch to shine. We’re also seeing Cinnamon Toast Crunch do some integrations with the WWE and Shark Week. So, stay tuned for that. 

But I will say more from a technical perspective, some exciting things that we’re doing, I would say AI space and optimization of our digital investments. We are using that on some of our brands, such as Yoplait. And we’ve seen double digit ROI increases when we apply this AI technology to our optimization of our investments across the digital programmatic space. So that’s an exciting time for us. We’re looking to scale that in the upcoming quarters here, and also using our retail media as brand media. We feel this is very innovative and a way for us to really leverage and sweat the assets of our customers. These are extremely important partners for us. Oftentimes retail media networks are seen as lower funnel and moment of truth and driving that purchase. But we’re finding ways to utilize it as more of the brand-building component and the smart leveraging of their data, especially through connected TV offerings.

You’ll see us coming to life through there, and really leveraging retail data in smart ways. 

MP: So just to connect the dots, as these RMNs are starting to cut more deals and starting to move their customers and hit and retarget their customers in streaming media and CTV, that’s become an important piece for you.

Roebuck: Correct. And it’s a smart way, right? We are making sure to partner with them in the right ways and really, that data is the value exchange for us, and how we can apply that retail data to our investments to help us target consumers in a more meaningful way through new channels.

MP: How big a problem has online disinformation been for CPGs like General Mills? Where do you see it most often and is it deliberate, is it malicious? 

Roebuck: Currently, we’re seeing it primarily on social channels. It’s an easy place for people to post content. It really can be a significant challenge given how it could spread misleading information about products, brands, and the industry at large. What that results in is harmful to our reputation and impact to consumer trust. While we are very focused on this idea of performance marketing, we’re also really focused on building brands and building that equity and that trust with consumers and misinformation can really start to erode that trust.

And really, what this requires is for us to be diligent and monitor consumer conversation online, engaging with consumers and very authentic ways and applying the right technology to help mitigate, monitor, and flag when this is happening. With the technology piece it really becomes a partnership with the industry and partners like Zefr who are really leaning into this and embracing this, and really is a core value of theirs. And it’s also a core value of ours to do the right thing all the time and brand safety, brand suitability and helping mitigate misinformation for consumers and for our own reputation is really front and center for us, especially in today’s world.

MP: There are at least two pieces to this. There’s misinformation that might involve your brand, it might have direct impact on the ways people are perceiving your brand. Then, of course, there’s health misinformation which is aligned with any CPG brand, because what people are saying about ingredients and types of foods are all impacting what you’re doing. And then, of course, there’s the whole problem of adjacency, and where your ad shows up. You mentioned Zefr so maybe we should back up and explain to people what Zefr is. And then let’s talk about the ways in which you’re using AI to come at this multi prompt problem.

Roebuck: Zefr is one of our video distribution partners. We’ve been partnering with them for several years now. And just recently, in Q1 of this calendar year, we started applying and testing and technology that Zefr was using that really helps in a pre-bid situation to identify misinformation. We’re able to more closely get ahead of that content before we’re actually bidding on inventory. So that is really the differentiator of this technology, and what tested out amongst one brand and now we’re looking to scale it as Zefr also scales across other platforms.

So, the hope in this, too, is that more measurement data will be possible to understand okay, what percentage of the content has been blocked, avoided, and measured. And then, how can we continue to scale that measurement, the impact that this has on both consumer sentiment, but also the return on investment of our media within the video space.

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