General Mills pours PR into launch of its new Cheerios

Minneapolis: General Mills will stage a major PR event this week when it rolls out its new Berry Burst Cheerios with the help of former teen heartthrob David Cassidy at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. General Mills is spending $40 million in overall advertising, marketing, and PR for the new product.

Minneapolis: General Mills will stage a major PR event this week when it rolls out its new Berry Burst Cheerios with the help of former teen heartthrob David Cassidy at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. General Mills is spending $40 million in overall advertising, marketing, and PR for the new product.

The Cassidy appearance is the culmination of a PR campaign for the new Cheerios variety that began at the Florida Strawberry Festival in February. The cereal maker has already garnered 85 million media impressions for its new product with more than 100 broadcast placements and print coverage in major publications such as Newsday and USA Today, said Kim Olson, public relations director with General Mills.

The Cassidy appearance is part of a songwriting contest General Mills put together for the new brand. A promotional tour visited malls in Kansas City, Denver, Atlanta, Phoenix, Seattle, and Cleveland, and invited people to sing songs they had written about the new Cheerios to the Cassidy hit tune "I Think I Love You." That song is being used in TV ads for Berry Burst Cheerios.

"This is our most integrated program in my tenure here," said Olson, who joined General Mills in 2001.

Advertising began in early February, and the PR effort was designed to tie into the ads

when it began a few weeks later. "One of the things that really spoke to us was the theme of the TV advertising," said Greg Zimprich, senior manager of public relations at General Mills.

Three finalists from the contest will appear this Thursday at the Mall of America. In addition to getting a new car and a year's supply of Cheerios, the winner will also get to sing a duet with Cassidy.

General Mills also created a website for the contest and sent heart-shaped press kits to the media. It even staged a wedding of a strawberry and a Cheerio at the Florida Strawberry Festival to drive home the idea that the product brings together strawberries and Cheerios.

The new cereal is aimed at 25- to 54-year-old women. "This is one of the biggest new launches in General Mills history," Zimprich claimed.

Minneapolis agency Padilla Speer Beardsley is working on the project for General Mills. The agency had done work for Cheerios' 60th anniversary, and so was brought in for the new Berry Burst launch.

Olson credited the grassroots PR approach with garnering coverage for the new product even during the war with Iraq. "We weren't just doing the one big-bang event. We hoped the Today show would pick it up," Olson said.

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