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What Was General Mills Smoking to OK Cheech and Chong Magic Brownie Campaign?

Posted by Dale Buss on September 27, 2011 05:14 PM

The latest online marketing campaign by General Mills takes the idea of medical marijuana to a whole new level. The company — yes, that General Mills, maker of mostly mundane but helpful family-friendly products ranging from Cheerios to Hamburger Helper — has gone out on a marketing limb that seems drug-induced.

The company has launched a series of web videos in a promotion featuring Cheech and Chong touting General Mills' new FiberOne 90 Calorie Brownies. And General Mills leaves nothing to allusion or wink-wink suggestions in selecting the counter-cultural champions of cannabis haze as the focus of the effort.

The videos are positioned as a trailer and clips from what is billed as the comedy duo's first road epic in 28 years, "Cheech & Chong's Magic Brownie Adventure." On their way to deliver a truckful of the "magic brownies" to a desert festival, they indulge in a treat that is chock full of a different kind of organic substance than they're used to: fiber.

"Now that you're getting older, you need a new kind of magic from your brownie," the tagline says. In one clip, Tommy Chong urges viewers, "Get high on fiber." FiberOne's Facebook page introduced the webisodes with the comment, "It's been 28 years. And they're back. In the greatest magic brownie epic in the history of the world."

Oh, to have been a fly on that wall at that pitch meeting. What were General Mills marketers (and agency, Publicis) thinking when this viral promotion moved from sideline conference-room chatter to the thing in the middle of the table, and then to production, and then to actual placement on the brand's Facebook page, YouTube channel and a campaign microsite earlier this month?

It's one thing for marketers to continually lure nostalgic boomers with images from the halcyon Sixties, right up to and including anti-Vietnam War marches and Woodstock. But they've always stopped the view at a few hundred feet away. With this campaign, a surprising General Mills is blowing right through any remnant of social convention that condemns marijuana smoking, and creating just another viral hook out of it. Amazing.

And, as one Facebook poster suggested, maybe the campaign featuring the aging potheads means that General Mills doesn't think FiberOne is for kids or families.

"It was an effort to reach boomers online in a fun and humorous way, leveraging the nostalgia from the 60s and 70s in tying that to the benefits of fiber," Kerry DeLaney, associate marketing manager for FiberOne, was quoted in Ad Age. "As people are getting older the magic in the brownies of yesterday have transformed into something more relevant today."

Of course, indulging in marijuana usage is as "relevant" today as it was to the Sixties and Seventies, even if (for some boomers) it's medical marijuana they're using. But that doesn't mean General Mills had to inhale — or send its marketing budget (and credibility?) up in smoke.

Comments

Kurre Sweden says:

Only the bold get the gold.

September 28, 2011 02:41 AM #

edward France says:

Lighten up, Mr. Buss.
The GM campaign is working - I've already had 5 friends send recommendations that I watch it.
GM has targeted a large and growing demographic and is running with it.

September 28, 2011 05:11 AM #

Gerry United States says:

I just watched the commercial. It's very funny!

You're just grumpy because they took the mickey out of Buuuurning Man.

September 28, 2011 05:38 AM #

Margaret Canada says:

A risky but smart campaign that speaks to the target consumer in a humourous way that's memorable and buzz-worthy. Effective in my books in creating awareness for the "Magic" brownies. Now let's see if it moves sales.

September 28, 2011 09:14 AM #

Carol United States says:

I think it's brilliant! It speaks to the target market while keeping it funny and relavant to their lifestyle, stereotypical or not.  And it was produced nicely.BTW, all the college kids i have sent this too, the millennials, love this campaign.  It speaks to them as well. We all need to have a little sense of humor these days, oh, and some fiber!

September 28, 2011 09:20 AM #

Jeff E. United States says:

Cheech and Chong have great chemistry, but the man who stole the van is terrible. This came from 7 millennials that I shared this message with.

September 28, 2011 10:10 AM #

Bob H Brazil says:

I don't see how anyone could bash this campaign unless they are jealous they didn't think of it.  It's entertaining and promotes a very good product and brand.

Get with the times Mr. Buss you old curmudgeon.

September 28, 2011 10:24 AM #

Trish L Canada says:

"...(and credibility?) up in smoke." ??

Honey, you need a joint. Immediately.

This campaign is everything that is great with the world.

Light(en) up.

September 28, 2011 10:46 AM #

D Buss United States says:

Well, actually, I love the edgy campaign as much as the next person, and I didn't exactly condemn this one -- just questioned its ultimate worth. And while I may be a curmudgeon, I'm not that old! Boomers have truly moved on to fiber already. With this campaign, I just picture a bunch of slick Gen Y and late Gen X ad types sitting around thinking they're being all ironic and slick, but I think -- while it's creating plenty of buzz now -- ultimately this may backfire on GenMills. Think of it this too: What if the promo substituted alcohol and the various sly references to drinking for all the mary jane stuff -- would MADD find it OK?

September 28, 2011 10:47 AM #

Trish L Canada says:

You are already a proponent of its worth as it is on it's way to the viral hall of fame, and the conversation has been started. Any good campaign engages an audience, and asks for it to be talked about and shared. GM/Publicis has successfully target one market (boomers) while engaging the opposite market not targeted for this campaign (Gen Y, Gen X and the online social community as it seems).

Who cares if the Gen Y and Gen X kids are basking in their skinny jeans and irony, they're buying the product are they not?

Why do you feel so strongly to question that such a light hearted/comical under tone could backfire? A little weed never killed anyone, but please, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong if alcohol could claim the same. These are...so completely...two different things, my friend.

September 28, 2011 11:04 AM #

Jeff E. United States says:

I don't think this is anywhere near Hall-of-Fame Material. The copy writing, from what I can see, isn't there.

September 28, 2011 11:31 AM #

I. Quiroz Peru says:

A little weed as you said, can kill a lot of people. I know the case of a trains' crash, in it many people died. Afterwards was know that the driver of one of the trains had been smoking a little weed.

September 29, 2011 12:05 AM #

Andy P United States says:

I think she meant alcohol poisoning there, friend. When's the last time you heard of an overdose on marijuana?


...not ever? Oh, okay. Good to know.

September 29, 2011 12:31 AM #

I. Quiroz Peru says:

The driver didn't need an overdose to kill many people.

September 29, 2011 01:26 AM #

Trish L Canada says:

You are already a proponent of its worth as it is on it's way to the viral hall of fame, and the conversation has been started. Any good campaign engages an audience, and asks for it to be talked about and shared. GM/Publicis has successfully target one market (boomers) while engaging the opposite market not targeted for this campaign (Gen Y, Gen X and the online social community as it seems).

Who cares if the Gen Y and Gen X kids are basking in their skinny jeans and irony, they're buying the product are they not?

Why do you feel so strongly to question that such a light hearted/comical under tone could backfire? A little weed never killed anyone, but please, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong if alcohol could claim the same. These are...so completely...two different things, my friend.

September 28, 2011 11:05 AM #

Jeff E. United States says:

As for the comment around alcohol? Weed, pot, they all seem the same these days. Yeah, weed isn't nearly as socially accepted, but it will be one day.

September 28, 2011 11:40 AM #

D. Buss United States says:

Well,Trish, let's leave aside the endless argument over the merits and demerits of weed and other illegal substances. I think it's just another step down the slippery slope ... And even Kim Kardashian gets buzz (the other non-narcotic kind)!

September 28, 2011 02:22 PM #

Trish L Canada says:

...who the hell is Kim Kardashian?



Dale, you're alright, kid.

Just...try a pot brownie one day, it's a humbling experience.

September 28, 2011 11:24 AM #

Seb Canada says:

And here, we get a glimpse into the mating rituals of the elusive Trish-troll.  It is a rare and spectacular occasion that we get a front-row seat into this truly wonderful phenomena, but we must remember not to feed the trolls.  

September 28, 2011 11:36 AM #

Larry Burns United States says:

I seriously doubt General Mills is in any way surprised by reactions to the campaign and the ads.   Great work should spur discussion, interest and yes, even controversy.  Frankly, part of what is most troubling within our current culture (IMHO) is that we stifle expression based on often ill defined fear.   Fear of 'backlash', fear of some fringe group calling for a boycott , fear of what "some people" might think, fear of lobbying groups making you their cause celeb (with the attendant 'created' media frenzy), and the list (unfortunately) goes on and on.  

Honestly the only arbiter of what Fiber One wants to do with their brand and its relationship to the people who buy it are themselves.   If the campaign offends in any way - don't watch it - this is a DIGITAL campaign for good reason, to avoid any of the nonsense of "exposing" this or that group to 'objectionable' content.   All devices have an on/off switch - we'd all be a lot better off if we simply utilized it rather than raise voices in protest about something that is obviously meant to entertain as well as spur product trial and use.   Could the US population suffer in some way by an increased discussion about the need for greater fiber in our diets?   Hmmmm ...

To me - I laughed out loud .. and I like and have bought the brownies.   I applaud General Mills for having the moxie to move this campaign forward in spite of the inevitable furor it may create.  

Let each person decide if he or she likes or dislikes the campaign, the product ,etc.   It certainly will raise awareness ... and isn't that kind of the point of advertising?

September 28, 2011 12:05 PM #

Christopher Barger United States says:

Dale, I couldn't disagree with you more. I thought this was a) funny, b) really well-executed, c) well-aimed at its target demographic, and d) not offensive or bothersome in the least. And I don't even like Cheech and Chong or drug humor. But I salute not only General Mills' creativity in developing the pitch, but their being willing to brave the inevitable barbs from the uptight, humorless or overly traditional.

I've never bought the brownies... now I might have to. Not because the ad campaign suddenly spurred me to, but because I want to show support, in the face of criticism, to a brand that showed some guts and went outside of the expected.

September 28, 2011 12:42 PM #

D. Buss United States says:

Chris: Hey, great to hear from you again!   Smile  So which do you think I am -- "uptight, humorless, or overly traditional"? -- or all three?

September 28, 2011 02:21 PM #

Dan T. United States says:

Frankly I am surprised that GM took the risk on this campaign.  But I am glad they did.

September 29, 2011 10:52 PM #

Lou United States says:

Credit to General Mills. Funny and relevant to target. No one is saying to smoke pot. Would u have banned those funny Chhech and Chong movies?

October 2, 2011 04:27 PM #

Comments are closed

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