Getting to the heart of an important issue

General Mills' multicultural programs for its Cheerios brand not only seek to form a connection with those groups, they also strive to improve their health.

General Mills' multicultural programs for its Cheerios brand not only seek to form a connection with those groups, they also strive to improve their health.

General Mills (GM) - housing more than 100 US brands - has been committed to multicultural outreach and marketing since the 1960s. Rudy Rodriguez, GM's multicultural marketing director, says the firm's multifaceted commitment stems from a desire to be a good corporate citizen, ensuring that consumers receive relevant messages and know they're valued.

"[Multicultural outreach is an] intrinsic part of GM's culture," Rodriguez says. "Management cares about employees and the communities where we do business. [We've] seen strong sales results from reaching out to diverse communities."

Building brands that improve health is a core value for GM. Consumer health messaging naturally extends from its Cheerios brand.

As research has shown that it can lower cholesterol, the link between high cholesterol and heart disease became the foundation of two Cheerios grant programs, Cheerios Sisters Saving Hearts and Angel de mi Corazon (Angel of My Heart), launched last year to help African- American and Hispanic communities fight heart disease.

"[We] had great information about the strong health benefits of Cheerios for African-American and Hispanic consumers," Rodriguez says.

Both programs are three-year initiatives that offer five $5,000 grants to individuals, groups, and organizations helping to battle heart disease. Entrants are asked to write an essay detailing how they, or the person/organization they nominate, work to fight the disease.

"[The campaign's aim] is to raise awareness of heart health among African-American and Hispanic women, who are likely to suffer this disease and less likely to get help," says Kimberley Bow Sundy, GM's manager of multicultural marketing and community relations. "We carry [GM's] philosophy [of caring for people] externally into the community. These programs elevate [grant winners] as champions. We're committed to the idea of championing unsung heroes and offering them unrestricted funds."

Leveraging the benefits


Lauren Powell, director of PR programs at Circulation Experti, which works on the program, says Sisters Saving Hearts is geared toward African-American women because they "set the tone" for the family, which then influences the larger community. The campaign generated more than 100 nominations last year, and drove 1,200 hits to Sisterssavinghearts.com.

Angel de mi Corazon generated more than 50 nominations in 2007. The program was developed in Spanish, and while there was talk of making it bilingual this year, it was decided to keep it in Spanish.

"[People] want to hear health information in Spanish," says Roxana Lissa, CEO of RLPR, which assists on this program. "We want to do [things] in a way that [are] going to resonate."

Both efforts focus on media relations and community outreach via letters and e-mails. Word of mouth has been a help, and developing long-term relationships with winners is a priority. Entering their second year, both programs have been tweaked to generate momentum. Sisters Saving Hearts added media partner Ebony magazine, which will run an advertorial in February, post information on its Web site, serve as a grant judge this year, and hopefully provide editorial coverage of 2008 winners.

"We wanted to extend the arms and legs to a publication because African Americans consume a lot of media," Sundy says. "Ebony is trusted. [We wanted] more credibility and to reach more people."

Partnerships

Cheerios has a long-standing partnership in raising awareness of heart issues with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which helps promote Sisters Saving Hearts and serves as a judge. The Web site is linked to other partners, including National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease's "WomenHeart," and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "The Heart Truth."

Yvette Pacheco, SAE at RLPR, says that Angel de mi Corazon has reached out to hundreds of community organizations, including Latino Family Services in Detroit, Nuestra Clinica del Valle in Texas, and the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families in New York.

Lissa adds that the agency also reached out to influential Latina sororities. The team hopes to expand community relations efforts to growing Hispanic markets in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and North Carolina. They will look to leverage winner relationships by creating an online community, which might include message boards and viral PSAs.

Rodriguez says Cheerios sales are increasing in African-American and Hispanic markets, though pinpointing a trigger is hard because there are many marketing programs there.

"Awareness of Cheerios among African Americans and Hispanics has increased," he adds. "That's [aiding] our success and coincides with the timing of [these] program[s]."

Lissa says Angel de mi Corazon proves that strong ties with community groups are important. "Brands have to take [these partnerships] seriously," she asserts. "It's about the long-term relationship. [Angel de mi Corazon] is created from the community. There is true commitment, and this is very important for GM. Companies change campaigns all the time. For a brand to stick to something is a big accomplishment."

Other multi-cultural programs from General Mills

Serving Up Soul
September-December 2007
As part of this campaign, GM created the Web site, servingupsoul.com, for African- American cooks. Betty Crocker Kitchens' Shirley Dolland remixed 120 traditional soul food recipes, which were introduced at supper clubs that were hosted for consumers in local markets.

Que Rica Vida
September 2007-April 2008
Translated, Que Rica Vida means "What a Rich and Wonderful Life." This initiative seeks to educate Latina consumers about American holidays. It includes community events, a free quarterly magazine, Web site (quericavida.com), and a community-based influencer program.

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