Special K Downplays Weight Loss Messaging in the US


Special K

Special K is undergoing a major change in brand positioning in the US after the mainstay Kellogg brand suffered a sales decline of unprecedented proportions over the last couple of years.

In droves, American women were tuning out Special K’s appeal to traditional weight-management norms, so Kellogg finally has adjusted what the brand stands for—and it’s hoping it comes in time to reverse the decline.

The new approach by Kellogg is summarized in the new Special K tagline, “Eat special. Feel special.” Special K’s message now is about “positive nutrition” benefits such as whole grain, fiber, folic acid and Vitamin D, in contrast to the brand’s long-time diet-oriented tagline, “What will you gain when you lose?”

Special K

“Women are moving away from the old world of dieting,” Noel Geoffroy, Kellogg’s SVP of morning foods marketing, told Ad Age. “They don’t want to strictly count calories anymore. Rather, they want to eat delicious foods with positive nutrition … they want to make the calories they eat count to achieve their happy, healthy weight.”

Such a departure has been coming for some time, because Kellogg couldn’t afford to let Special K simply keep sliding. Special K’s US sales fell by nearly 15 percent from 2013 to 2014, to $366 million, according to Euromonitor International.

The sales drop was reflected in the sub-brand’s foundational Special K cereal—sales of which declined by more than 10 percent for the 52 weeks ended last September 7, per SymphonyIRI—as well as in softening sales of the many extended Special K categories such as nutrition bars and crackers.

An incremental change last year, positioning Special K as more of a lifestyle brand than a weight-loss brand with the tagline #FightFatTalk, has yet to make a substantial impact on sales.

For 15 years, Special K had been a major growth engine for Kellogg, after marketers concocted the Special K Weight Loss Challenge: Eat two bowls of the cereal daily for two weeks as the basis of a diet and “drop a jeans size” in that time.

But the message lost its punch, especially over the last couple of years as women increasingly have abandoned the age-old notion of eating to lose weight to a more holistic approach designed to bolster their overall nutrition, with weight management as one of the benefits.

So, Kellogg CEO John Bryant said at an industry conference recently, “What we need to do is switch the communication over to nutrient density—to vitamins, whole grains, fiber, protein, whatever it may be—to reengage the consumer back into Special K, which will require some innovation and some renovation.”

The new campaign emphasizes idealized women’s figures and feature “women who reflect what the people who eat our food actually look like,” Kellogg said. “Women today want food that is part of an every-day healthy lifestyle, not just a quick fix.”

Kellogg also is tinkering with its Special K products as well as messaging. For instance, Special K cereal has launched new varieties including gluten-free. A new “protein” line includes a “cinnamon brown sugar crunch” flavor, whose pieces are rounded-off squares – marking the first time, as Ad Age observed, that the cereal has moved beyond the flake.

Apparently the US market will be the first to see the major repositioning for Special K. In other markets, including the UK and India, weight loss continues to be the message for the brand.

In the US, company executives said they expect it to take a while before the Special K makeover kicks in with consumers and re-energizes sales.

That seems to present a sobering evolution of their view since last fall, when Kellogg Chief Growth Officer Paul Norman said, “There’s nothing to say here that I don’t believe we can’t get [Special K] back on-trend fairly quickly. The brand can react to the environment and perform going forward.”