Relevance (Issue 673)

In which we are reminded that we have to evolve our positioning as market psychology shifts.  

What do Doug Flutie,  Joey Votto,  Justin Verlander, Chad (now Javon Johnson) Ochocinco, David Eckstein, Tommy Maddox, Terrell Owens, Kurt Warner, Ed McCaffrey,  and Lynn Swan have in common?

Do you even know who half those people are?

If you do, and if you guessed, “professional athletes,” you’d be right – U.S. professional football, basketball, and baseball.

And they share another distinction… and the red box sitting on the upper right shelf of my office book case tells the tale:  All have released their own breakfast cereals, leveraging their visibility and popularity to “diversify their brands” and generate additional cash.

Thanks to friend Leo in Buffalo, a good-as-new box of Flutie Flakes catches the eye. Flutie, in fact, launched his version of corn flakes in 1998 to raise money for his autism foundation; Flutie fans purchased three MILLION boxes of the stuff.

He is, by far, the athletic champion of breakfast cereals.

And, speaking of breakfasts and Champions, comes word this week in a Wall Street Journal article, “Even Olympians Can’t Save Wheaties,”  that the General Mills breakfast cereal launched in 1923 and still known as the “Breakfast of Champions” has slipped to 17th place among breakfast cereals, behind Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (#10 position, launched in 1942) and Froot Loops (#9).

Even Fitness Magazine doesn’t include Wheaties on its list of best cereals (and Grape-Nuts DID make the  Fitness Magazine list, so this isn’t just about “aging champion,” as Grape-Nuts has been around since 1897 and tastes just about as … well, you can pick the adjective… as it did then).

Nope…. This is about positioning and relevance.

Bill Littlefield, in his March 8 NPR “Only A Game” radio broadcast, interviewed Kevin Helliker, who contributed to the Wall Street Journal article; they noted that, while “sports” are still very popular, “fitness” has become a hotter issue; pictures of cereal eaters on boxes look more like everyday-you-and-me rather than Olympic champions or professional athletes.  (Compare the Grape-Nuts box to the Wheaties box…. You’ll see!)

Relevance, that dreadfully overused 1960s word, is back and Wheaties does not seem relevant to significant volumes of breakfast cereal buyers today.

One wonders – what would  General Mills have to do to reposition Wheaties as relevant, again (it once accounted for almost 10% of cereal sales)… and what do we sales wizards need to do to stay relevant so that we don’t suffer the same Wheaties fate?

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