General Mills Chief Marketing Officer Mark Addicks on how marketing can make a better world

General Mills CMO Mark Addicks
General Mills CMO Mark Addicks talks about marketing strategies and business ethics with Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson.
MPR Photo/Elliot deBruyn

Bright Ideas guest host Jeremy Hobson was joined by Mark Addicks, the Chief Marketing Officer for General Mills. Addicks spends a billion dollars a year on advertising but is crazy about the new influence of social media. From selling Cheerios to fighting poverty - Mark Addicks says marketing can make a better world.


Jeremy Hobson: Welcome to "Bright Ideas: Fresh Thoughts on Big Issues," coming to you from the UBS forum at Minnesota Public Radio News. I'm Jeremy Hobson, in for Steven Smith. Each month, we invite a guest to the forum to talk about critical issues and ideas facing Minnesota, and to take questions from the studio audience. Our guest this time is Mark Addicks. He's the Chief Marketing Officer for General Mills, which is the world's sixth largest food company.

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Whether or not you know much about General Mills, the company, you certainly know about its brands the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and Betty Crocker. Those are all characters that in a sense work for Mark Addicks. He was one of the people who brought us Frosted Cheerios.

Now, he's steering General Mills and its brand into the 21st century and a whole new world of marketing that relies on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Mark Addicks, welcome to the show.

Mark Addicks: Thank you very much. I'm really glad to be here. [applause]

Hobson: All right. You've been at General Mills since 1988.

Addicks: That's right.

Hobson: What brought you to the company?

Addicks: Well, kind of a funny story. I'll try to keep it short, but I was in business school on the East Coast and a friend of mine who I trusted came and told me that she had just an interview with a company called General Mills. And she said, "They had open slots" the next day and "You should really interview." And I thought, "Where are they?" And she said, "Minnesota." I was like, "Minnesota. I should interview in Minnesota?" I'd never been here.

So anyways, she handed me their annual report, and I went, "Oh, Cheerios." And I went through the brands. "I know all these brands." And, "OK." So, I signed up, went and put on my suit.

Very funny, I was being interviewed by a guy named Floyd Jarros, who was pretty famous.

Hobson: You still remember his name?

Addicks: Oh, absolutely. He was a great marketer, incredibly creative, but he was a big guy from Northern Minnesota. Long hair at the time so this is 1988 big beard, looked really rough. And I walked into this room, and I'll never forget it, I knocked on the door and I opened it. And I looked at him and I went, "Is this General Mills?" And he says, "Yeah, this is General Mills." And I said, "Manufacturing?" And he's like, "No, Marketing." [laughter]

The UBS Forum in MPR Studios
The UBS forum in MPR Studios is filled with people waiting for this session of Bright Idea's guest, General Mills CMO Mark Addicks.
MPR Photo/Elliot deBruyn

Addicks: OK. So, I went in and it was the most incredible 30 minutes. He never asked me the typical questions you try to ask people. Like, "Well, tell me about leadership examples, personal strengths and weaknesses." The first thing he did was he put a white cereal carton in front of me, like a package. And there were all these crayons and stuff, and he said, "Design your brand."

Hobson: And what did you do?

Addicks: You got five minutes. Well, I picked the colors. I picked the font. I did the character. I put a bowl. I did the back. I did the front, made fun of the nutrition statement on the side. And then the next question was, "If you could be any person in history before 1900, who would it be, and why?"

Then it was a question about politics. And I mean, I finished this thing and I was like, "Is this marketing? What are we doing here?" And of course, what he was doing was something I've stolen which is, "How curious are you? Do you put yourself in the shoes of other people? What's the inside about a certain time or place?"

Hobson: What was it about you though back then that impressed him?

Addicks: I don't know.

Hobson: What did you have that he wanted?

Addicks: I have no idea. I think I had a pretty non MBA background. I'd been an entrepreneur. I'd tried a lot of different things a political science major. So, I really answered the political science question well. [laughter]

Addicks: But, I think it was my crayons. I think I was pretty good at the cereal carton, and maybe that's it. But, literally, I walked out and thought, "Wow, that was the most amazing thing." And I walked into my apartment, take off the suit and tie. The phone rang, and he said, "Hey, it's Floyd. You got to come to Minnesota." And that's kind of how the whole thing started.

Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills
Mark Addicks talks with Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson in this session of MPR's series Bright Ideas.
MPR Photo/Elliot deBruyn

Hobson: And you've been here ever since?

Addicks: Yeah. Honestly, I thought I'd be here for like two years. I told all my friends, and now I've been there for many more than that, and I consider myself a Minnesotan. Truthfully, about our culture at General Mills, it's a surprisingly stable story.

Hobson: But, what was the magic that you had? And that you obviously do have still to get all the way to the top like that.

Addicks: Getting to work with other people, and taking credit for their work. I don't know. [laughter]

Addicks: No. No. We really do work in a very collaborative environment, that's why I like it. I love to come to work. I always say, "I got to laugh every day." You do. I know it sounds really trite, but you've got to feed off the environment you're in, learning something new different every day. So, what I hope I bring... My personal brand is a lot of external thinking. Challenge the way people think. Try to ask the creative question.

Hobson: Tell us about one of the brands that you've been very involved in. Obviously, we talked about Frosted Cheerios. What else?

Addicks: I was very involved in Cheerios. I was really excited about getting to work for it and work on it. But, it's really, in some ways, a scary brand. It's such a huge brand. It's very important, and I was real surprised. I was surprised at... It was really one of the best experiences of my life in terms of work, in the sense of it's a brand everyone knows and loves. If you even mention the word on the street, at a party, people will tell you their Cheerios story. The thing I really learned about Cheerios, which is a general statement, I think, about marketing is: great brands have layers on them that people have layered over time. People have left little legacies, and so...

Hobson: And Cheerios has been around for how long?

Addicks: Oh, it's been around since 1941.

Hobson: Wow.

Addicks: It was launched as Cheery Oats, and Quaker Oats sued us and said, "It's too close our trademark." And thankfully, we changed the name to Cheerios, which is a better brand name. And literally, if you look, it was originally more of a kid's cereal. And it had the Lone Ranger, and it had all kinds of things. Today, it's about something, you know, heart health. It's still very important as a first finger food, but for somebody who's studied the brand I've certainly studied it you can look at everything from font to the vibrancy of the yellow. People have left a legacy all through the career of that, and pushed the brand forward.

Hobson: And what does that do for you now in 2011 when you go to figure out what you're going to do next in the marketing of Cheerios?

Addicks: Well, there are a lot of things. What's really great about what I would call "Legacy Brands," is that one really great thing that you have as a marketer is; you can look backwards. You can look at the history of the brand, history of the category. When was it introduced? What was the idea? When did we do our best? I'm a big believer in that a lot of things that are old can be new again. So, in many cases, for many of our brands maybe they've stalled, or we're working on them you can go back and look at the history. And sometimes they were so well thought out that it's really about: what is the translation today?

We always go back. So, one of the exercises I personally do is go back and look at the brand and say, "OK. When did it do the best? When was the category strongest? What was the idea?" And then when you get to the idea you say, "Is that still true? Why was that a good idea then?" And you might say, "Well, the insight. The consumer insight was they needed this, or that." And you say, "Is that true today?" And sometimes it's translating forward.

Hobson: What have you left on the Cheerios brand that will be there for future generations?

Addicks: My team. And we really do kind of work... One of the really great things in the culture we have is it's very collaborative. We want you to leave your legacy. You work collectively in teams. The team I worked on, believe it or not, we were well into... This was in the '90s. So, well over 50 years, and we had never shown a child in a high chair in the history of the brand. And the reason was, several people said, "Oh, well, then everybody will think it's for babies." And you're like, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. It's that the brand of Cheerios the starting, the emotional part, is that wonderful nurturing you get back and forth, and how your child nurtures you and you nurture them back. And that can actually be the palette for the brand going forward."

So, we did a number of things. I would like to think as a team we made the brand more... We recognized what it could be emotionally.

Hobson: What about outside of General Mills? What is a brand that inspires you that somebody else has come up with?

Addicks: Besides the obvious ones. The obvious ones are Apple and etc. And I'm a person that I just love to go. I love looking at external brands. My real entree in the marketing is psychological. How I kind of come in is, I love figuring out the irrational logic of what consumers are doing. So, figure out the rituals. Why do they do this? What are they getting from it?

Hobson: Like what kind of a ritual?

Addicks: The ritual of wearing a Lance Armstrong Live Strong. Why would you do that? And why would you go buy it? A lot of people, I bet if we went and looked at who's bought the wrists online for a dollar; that those people probably make an average of $80,000 a year. They can contribute a lot more. Truth is, they buy a ton of wrist bands, but there's something psychological about identifying, showing that you care, demonstrating that to others.

That's not entirely irrational, but it's just interesting. Why do people do certain things? Why do they affiliate with brands? A perfect world for a marketer is that you've engaged people enough that they use your brand as an identifier. I'm a Cheerios Mom. I take a Starbucks break every afternoon.

Hobson: I walk around with my iPhone, or whatever.

Addicks: Absolutely. And that's not like they've been manipulated. It means they've identified, and your brand has almost become a shorthand for what they're seeking, or what they get.

Hobson: When I'm on the air every morning hosting "The Marketplace Morning Report," I'm always thinking in my head even though I'm talking to a bunch of people around the country that I've never seen or met before, I'm thinking of my Mom, or I'm thinking of a friend when I'm talking. When you are designing a brand, when you're trying to market to somebody, who do you have in your mind?

Addicks: That's a great question. We have a pretty detailed training program where we try to really leverage the full scale of all the great minds and creative power in our company. So, we've built a program, and we have a fundamental concept. It was built of what we saw worked in General Mills, but also worked for large and small brands that were really successful throughout the world. The idea is a brand champion. And the idea is that brand needs to be for somebody. There needs to be somebody that you know intimately in your mind, and they will be viral for the brand. They'll co create if you want them. They'll market the brand.

Hobson: Somebody that's obsessed with the brand, or?

Addicks: Not obsessed, but someone that that brand is for. So, if you look through their eyes and really understand what the brand can be, you're going to make better decisions. So, every single brand in General Mills are brands that I comment on, or look at outside.

Hobson: So, this is an abstract person? This is not an actual person?

Addicks: No. We usually put a name to it. We put a name, and we create a persona.

Hobson: But, that you've created? It's not a real person.

Addicks: Correct, but I'll give you the case of Frosted Cheerios. We were putting that idea together, and working on the concept. And it was really an eight year old boy in Denver. And after that he spoke. He really liked the brand. He gave us a ton of vocabulary around the brand. He compared it. We asked him a bunch of questions and he could give us very clear answers, and from that point on the whole team walked around and said, "It's him." So, whenever we consider a promotion, a color, what goes on the box, the commercial...

Hobson: You're always thinking of him.

Addicks: ... we'd say, "Would Sam like this?"

Hobson: [laughs]

Addicks: "Is this what Sam would want us to do?" So, it's staying true. The brand is someone else's, you're stewarding it.

Hobson: So, you don't have anybody in your head? You've got a son yourself around that age. Right?

Addicks: Oh, yes. Yes.

Hobson: Are you thinking of your own son ever? Or just Sam?

Addicks: No. I would never. I observe a lot of things my son does, of course. I love them, so. But, I watch a lot of things and basically compare that to what I'm being told in qualitative and quantitative research, and what I read. But no, I don't think about, "Would John like this?" I do see occasionally for some of our brands, things that there's a similar brand champion like him and I can nod my head, but I do that for my mother, for friends. And yeah, you know.

Hobson: We're talking about brand champions and individual people, but you've talked a lot about marketing to everyone. You do not want to leave any segments of the population out of who you're marketing your products to.

Addicks: Well, fundamentally, a brand is for somebody, and you got to keep that in mind as you're sculpting the brand, and continue to steward the brand. The truth is you got to sell to a wider net of people. So, there are other marketing tactics and levers that you can use to entice other people in, but you got to stay very true to who's the brand for, and you don't want to go too far. You don't want to veer of that. But, it's about making choices, I think fundamentally. And I think one of the interesting things that's really right now is that we have been moving very quickly from a mass kind of approach. What we used to call "women with a pulse."

Hobson: [laughs]

Addicks: So, there would be like brands and people would literally come in and say the brand is women 18 to 54. And you're like, oh my God, are you kidding me? "18 to 54, women." OK, do we want to be any more specific? And we don't do that. We don't market that way. We say, Laura, she's 34. This is what she really wants in life, this is what she believes. So, we're moving to an era where it's getting finer and finer.

Hobson: You've talked about the fact that in fact African Americans and Latinos are often left out of the brand strategy for many companies.

Addicks: Absolutely, and something I'm really proud... I mean, General Mills is I believe the number one advertiser to Hispanics, for instance; very active with African Americans. I do believe if you're marketing to America, you have to market to the whole country, and plus, what I love about maybe having Hispanic brand champion or African American brand champion is they're tremendously brand loyal at populations. They're leading culture in a lot of ways. Their story can be richer, so as you're thinking about how, what the role of the brand can play, they can just be powerful. So, I do think a lot of America is still marketed very blindly and makes some of those people feel invisible. I think it's changing quickly and couldn't happen faster.

Hobson: If you're just joining us, this is "Bright Ideas." I'm Jeremy Hobson in for Steven Smith, and we're talking to Mark Addicks, the Chief Marketing Officer at General Mills. Mark Addicks, we're coming out of a recession, a big recession. The American consumer is allegedly totally different than he or she was before the recession. Is that what you're seeing, and are you having to market in a different way to this new frugality?

Addicks: The answer is yes. You always market to the time, and I was having this conversation today in a meeting. The consumer is always changing. That sounds really trite, but they're having a great experience with some brand or some service, and when they experience something like that, they raise their standards across all of their choices. The example I was giving today was, five or seven years ago, you would do a FedEx package and you could trace it all over the country or world. Today, you can do that with a Domino's pizza if you go to their site. That was an experience. People were like, "I'd like to know where my pizza is."

Hobson: Pablo's putting it in the oven!

Addicks: And nobody in the pizza category went like, well, that's not our category. That's the consumer expectation. You constantly are checking in with the consumer. The recession has been really fundamental and eye opening. The other thing is, I think it's not a static thing. So, I'm a person at my team, we do a lot of quantitative research, qualitative research. But, I do a lot of Googling, I read a lot of blogs.

As an example, one of the interesting things, about 13 months into the recession, literally was overnight and across several blogs were people saying... We knew they had started eating at home a lot, reversed the trends of eating out. But also, if you were keeping your eye close to the consumer, they were starting to say "I'm so bored at home." There were blogs that'd say, "I miss appetizers."


Addicks: "I miss the waiter." And so as a marketer you said, we need to up the experience...

Hobson: You're just getting that information from looking at blogs?

Addicks: Oh, yes.

Hobson: Figuring out that consumers are ready to go back out again.

Addicks: Oh, yes. But, the data would say, no, they're eating at home, they're minding their budgets, they're bringing their personal debt down. But, we're always trying to figure out underneath, what is really going on up here? As a marketer, then, you say, so how do I make this a better occasion at home? What could I do? And it could be ways that you talk about the brand. Eat in while you eat out and things like that.

Hobson: This is a perfect transition into the world of social networking, which is obviously changing everybody's business, but particularly, it's going to change your business and it is changing your business. How are you adjusting to the landscape of Facebook and Twitter and new ways to communicate with consumers?

Addicks: First and foremost, what I would say is it's totally a new frontier. And so one of the things that you really need to do is let go and really encourage your marketers and your teams to go out, it's a social atmosphere, and experiment. Learn quickly. Where it's very, very different from what the world I came into. The world I came into was about making a television commercial and the like, and it was about perfection. You would test it and get it all right and then put it out and say, "How did it do?" The world we're going into is a different dynamic. The consumer is in total control. They were always in control, but there were boundaries. Now they're in total control.

The great thing is, they can now raise their hand. They can give you really instant feedback. They can volunteer and help you, which they couldn't before. And the two skills we talk about a lot are as an organization, becoming much more agile, turning on a dime, listening really well.

And then, experimentation. Like, you have to learn iteratively now. And so, somebody like me, it's against our marketing DNA, but you get out there and say, here's 10 ways I could talk to you about this. It's a social environment. Is there one that resonates or is more true to you? "Yes, it's these two." In some cases, they're saying, "and here's a better one, by the way."

Hobson: You're just having a conversation back and forth with the consumer.

Addicks: Yes.

Hobson: Are you on there? Are you on Twitter?

Addicks: Yes, I tweet and I have a blog and stuff like that.

Hobson: And you do it yourself, you don't have some assistant or [inaudible 0:20:43] do it for you.

Addicks: I do it. No, I'm doing... Go look at the site, it needs to be improved. I just haven't gotten around to it. [laughter]

Addicks: I mean, I try to have good nuggets in it, but I get help. Also, one of my big things was like, start opening it up, let other people write and everything. I have a couple of friends that help a lot.

Hobson: But, a lot of people will think about that, think about a big company like General Mills going on networks like Twitter and Facebook and they'll think, oh, they're doing that because they want to get tons of data about their consumers. They want to get lots of information so they can sell them more things.

Addicks: Well, if that's what they get out of that experience, then that's negative and wrong, because they're social environments. You have to be invited in. In fact, you've got to have... The brand has to really know itself so that it can be in service. I think it's really clear in this short period of time, three years into Facebook, that people engage and pass around and speak about things that are positive that actually do something for them. Having opening a Facebook page is, who cares? They're not joining non entities, but if you're in service to them, you're going to do fine, you're going to do well. And I think that's why it's a really interesting time. One example that we've talked about is, if you think about a brand like Volvo, which stood for safety...

Hobson: Yes.

Addicks: ... In the 1980s it was like, let me demonstrate that to you. Let me substantiate that. Let me tell you in print and in television, and you can come to the dealership and I'll point out the brakes and all that kind of stuff. Today, what's incredible about the environment we're in is like, I still need you to do that, maybe in some new mediums. But, now I might expect you if you're really about safety and you really want me to care about you, to start telling me about, we're taking a vacation. What are the safe routes? Is there a way...

Hobson: You want Volvo to tell you that.

Addicks: I think consumers, for those kinds of brands they really want to connect with, are expecting higher levels of service, and I think the explosion of apps and those kind of things are part of this trend, yes.

Hobson: What do you look for in data, though? Do you look into the data that you're getting? Obviously, you're still getting data from consumers.

Addicks: Oh, totally.

Hobson: What do you want to know about them?

Addicks: First and foremost, I always look for, what's the trend? How are we doing? How are we doing against the broader competitive set? And then even larger, how are we doing beyond just let's say the category, but the occasion, breakfast, or how are we doing in the world of the consumer? You kind of look for general trends and to see if you can find some easy answers, but typically, it goes back to understanding "Oh, so, but what's really going on? I mean, I can find out we're not selling much of X in Cleveland. That's helpful to say you should probably start in Cleveland, but it really doesn't answer the question.

Hobson: There's obviously a lot of pressure for every business to be really involved in these social networking sites and what they do. On the other hand, I assume there are people at the top saying "Why are we spending all this time doing this stuff? When is it going to start translating into sales? When are a million friends on Facebook going to mean a million dollars in the account?"

Addicks: It's a great question. The truth is, as marketers, you're always looking at what you do and say, are we adding value or not? What's value added, what isn't? I would say for us as well as most marketers, they've already started answering that question, like what's the value of being a friend? What are the high value things, services we offer that consumers really like to be a part of? That journey is whether you're talking about General Mills or you're talking about Target or you're talking about Best Buy, or any kind of category that journey has started, because it's a new place to engage and talk. And so, people are trying to figure out, what are the conditions that we have that conversation? But, we do know, for instance, there are brands that have been launched or live exclusively in the social atmosphere. They don't have television commercials.

Hobson: Like what?

Addicks: Fiber One bars is one that we've done that's been hugely successful. I don't think it had any traditional media. I think it was introduced largely through the social network, was very... And it...

Hobson: Why do think it worked so well?

Addicks: Great idea, very fundamental idea. And what I think we've learned, what I learned out of that is, by knowing the brand champion, then... And what you're seeing a lot in small companies and big companies, go out and find your brand champion and engage, sample, and then they'll be highly viral.

Hobson: Interestingly, you don't think that marketing on radio, TV, or print is dead.

Addicks: Not at all, not at all. So, I'll start with the data, I'll be a good marketer. Like, people are actually watching more TV, not less. They're using it differently. That's what you've got to understand. But, first of all, I think sometimes any medium that other people have walked away from is a great medium to own for your brand. It gives you an uncluttered environment, so to speak. But, what I love about TV is, it's just wonderful for all the senses. It's a great place to introduce an idea and then drive them to digital, and they can raise their hand and do more.

I love radio, truthfully, not just because of this program...

Hobson: [laughs]

Addicks: ... But really, because of theater of the mind. I mean, there's really not a medium and I think you guys do this well, and I think marketers don't use it enough is to tell a story. So, in our brand training, one of the things we feature is OnStar, and we play our marketers all these incredibly dramatic radio broadcasts. And it sells, it engages, and markets the brand OnStar. And you know, one of the lessons that we impart out of that is you couldn't do it as well on TV. You couldn't do it as well in print.

Hobson: Why? Why couldn't you do it those other mediums?

Addicks: Because your mind is the most powerful thing. You create the characters, you're seeing the scene, you're affiliating, your heart is empathetic, you're going "Oh my God, what if we were in that?" And you're taken to this new place. Now, a lot of commercial radio is, OK, what did they say the last 60 seconds? People are screaming at you or whatever?

Hobson: Weather on the threes.

Addicks: Or those legal copy at the end. But, I think it's a great medium. I think print can be a great medium, but it's what you do with them.

Hobson: What would work in print, do you think?

Addicks: One of my favorite campaigns is the introduction of the Mini. We studied that and we brought that into our... I mean, the introduction of the Mini is, they didn't go buy half page ads, or "we want the cover or back cover, or we want quarter page." The idea of the Mini was to make driving unique and fun. It's called motoring because it's a small car. So, if you go look at what they did this was Crispin Porter they literally took the edge of the page. They were an exacting client. They went in, and I'm sure the different magazines said, "Oh, we can only sell you a quarter page, half page." Yes, I got that part, but I want to show motoring. And they did that.

And so, it surprised and delighted different readers. And they got the idea, and it broke through in a way that again, they had maybe a quarter of the funds of a car intro, and they had a massive appeal because they were far more creative. And they brought the brand to life.

Vodka, Absolute Vodka, which is pretty famous.

Hobson: Oh, yes, everybody's name.

Addicks: OK, so they took a standard full page, but then they completely socialized and made it localized before that was really a trend, so there's a lot of things you can do.

Hobson: Obviously, the social networking sites were not around in big form when you graduated from... when you got your MBA. What do you think that kids that are getting out of marketing school right now, what skills do they have that you didn't? And what do you have that they don't?

Addicks: Hmm. I would say the skills that I hope they have today are I think because of their experience, I mean, they're living in a social environment. It'll get really interesting in 10 years when you get the group of people that just were kind of born into this, because you can already see differences. But, the group coming out, they have, they live in a social world. Some of these things, the devices, are extensions of their hands. So, they know and they have already identified and engaged with brands exclusively across these. So, I think they have that inherent advantage.

What we worry, I worry about and we're very closely tied and I've taught in some programs and I love to go back: Are they strong enough in design? And, you know, big differentiator today as the world, really since the late 90s, has gone highly visual.

I mean, it was around the late 90s that McDonalds stopped training people any more with books or words. It all became visual. We're a highly visual culture. So, having a good intuitive design sense is powerful. Being able to recognize a creative idea is powerful.

How you work is going to be much faster and more collaborative and more iterative.

Hobson: Is there someone who's come in to General Mills, some young person who's come in. And you've looked at them and said, wow. That's an, I can't believe that they have that idea at that age, that they can do that?

Addicks: Oh yeah. There's a lot of them. And it's just like, you know, so your first reaction is competitive. Like, oh my God, how did they get to be so great?

Hobson: Get them out of here now.

Addicks: And then you're like, oh my God, I'm going to retire and they're going to work. And they'll do better, you know. So, it'll be great. But, no, you see that. You see some incredibly talented people. And I think the challenge for organizations is, how do you bring that out of them more? Let them have more chances early. Let them go.

You know, yeah, there's some people.

Hobson: All right. While we're talking about young people, a lot of the products that you've been marketing over the last 20 years do focus on young people. And many of them are high in sugar.

Addicks: Yes.

Hobson: Do you ever feel bad about anything that you're marketing, or the effects of it?

Addicks: No, you know, I don't feel bad about marketing. I think the flip side of that is, do you have a responsibility in marketing. And the answer is absolutely yes. I mean the first and foremost of any brand is what is the experience, what is the product.

I can give you a number of things. But, General Mills, since the 70s, has pretty strict marketing guidelines. We do throw brands out that we say that we should talk to Moms about these, not kids. You know, it's pretty transparent, public.

But, we have an aggressive record of continuing to pursue nutrition across the board. And you've seen announcements lately, where we continue to adjust lower sugar, lower things.

And I would say in the case of sugar, largely because it's, that's a consumer want. But, there are a lot of great things about the categories. And so I'm actually proud of them.

You know, cereal is extremely nutrient dense. You know, General Mills, uniquely by being all whole grain, is probably about 20 percent of the whole grain consumption of the country.

Hobson: But, would you say a cereal like Lucky Charms is nutrient dense?

Addicks: It is nutrient dense. People don't think it is, but the Institute of Medicine just issued another report. Kids who eat all cereals, including Lucky Charms, have lower body weights. And that's across all the boards. And it's very simple. There's more nutrition and there's lower calories. That's the way it goes.

Hobson: When you're marketing to young children particularly, especially with a product like Lucky Charms or something like that, that they're really not probably going to stay with their entire life. That it's only for a certain age group. Do you have to constantly reinvent how you're marketing because you're marketing to kids that are brought up in the 90s, in the 2000s, in the 2010s?

Addicks: Absolutely, so it's the same principle, whether it's an adult, a boomer, a kid. You can't make assumptions and say they're the same as.

Hobson: You can't have Sam.

Addicks: You can't have Sam forever. You can have, there are themes about some of the questions we all face at different stages of life that are pretty consistent. You know, as you think about retiring you'll think about these things. But, a good example will be kids, you have to think differently about kids. They've experienced Harry Potter. The kids 10 years ago didn't know what that was. It's a whole different sense of what's magic, what's power. It's a whole different leap of the imagination.

So, every, again, every experience that a consumer has, they're going to bring to bear and expect. And so you absolutely have to be culturally curious.

Hobson: Are you marketing to their parents, as a nostalgia thing? Is it you're trying to get the parents to buy the kids what they bought when they were that age?

Addicks: I mean, believe it or not, there's pretty high adult consumption of a lot of those cereals. [laughter]

Addicks: And this was a phenomenon, part of one of the really great things, fun things, to learn on Cheerios when I did it. We did this exploration where we went out and we went around the country. We didn't have the benefit of digital at the time. But, we asked people just to write a Cheerios story. And they did and it was really, really powerful, of what people told us and what they remembered about the brand. But, they were still consuming it today. So, they might have been 40, but when I was 12 this happened and I love to eat Cheerios because it reminds me.

And I totally got that because, you know, I had a very this will sound hokey but it's true. When I'd first gotten the Cheerios job, I went and spent a day in the archives. And I just said, I'm going to look at all the ads. And I want to look at all the packages and all the things we did and just immerse myself.

And I was alive during some of this time and there'd be moments I'd see a commercial and I'd be like, oh my God, I know how this ends and everything.

But, the thing that really kind of choked me up was, I grew up in Texas. And I had these grandparents on a farm. And my mother was actually quite a, what we would call a permissive Mom. So I grew up kind of eating Rice Krispies and Captain Crunch and Frito pie which is why my hair fell out and all kinds of stuff like that.

But, my grandparents were Cheerios eaters. And they were farmers and they always ate Cheerios. And so I would always eat Cheerios with them.

And I was in Friday afternoon, look at this. And I came across this package from it was like 1953 or something. And there were the bowls, on the back of the box. And those were all the bowls in their house. Those were the bowls we ate the Cheerios out.

And I thought, oh my God. They would die if they knew, because they were such brand champions for Cheerios.

Hobson: They were brand champions.

Addicks: And I was like and they would know, they had ordered them from this little company in Minneapolis. And they were in the middle of nowhere.

Hobson: This is "Bright Ideas" from Minnesota Public Radio News, "Fresh Thoughts on Big Issues. I'm Jeremy Hobson in for Steven Smith. Our guest is Mark Addicks, the chief marketing officer for General Mills. We're talking about how the world of marketing is changing and how it's staying the same.

Let me ask you, the show is called Bright Ideas. What's the brightest idea you you've ever had?

Addicks: Oh my God.

Hobson: See you know we didn't give him the questions before hand.

Addicks: Jeremy, please. The brightest idea I've ever had. OK. So, one of the brightest ideas I've ever had...

Hobson: I'll take that.

Addicks: ...OK. I'll do it in the General Mills context. ... Was we were struggling in frosted Cheerios. And we had seen, for people that know marketing, what happens is, you know what the brand's about. And you do this thing called a brief.

And you give it to your agency and you talk to them. Who's the brand champion and all that. And how are we going to engage the consumer and bring the brand to life.

And we had been through several bad rounds, creative, like people walked in from New York and presented. Ta Da. We think you should do this and that. And you're like, ooh. That's not it.

And you would talk and this was starting to become critical, like we're getting close to, OK. We need to have this. This is our whole campaign idea. What's going to get the reason that people will act now.

And it was pretty dire and there was a line in the script. It wasn't anything about the visuals, but there was a line in the script. And I just picked that one out with a couple, another woman I was working with. And we both went, that's a really great line.

And it could have been a terrible meeting, but we tried to turn it in to, you know. They were dispirited, we were dispirited. And, you know, you had great people and you're like, the line is this. Can you bring that to life?

And that completely turned around the whole thing. They came back with this incredible creative idea. From the minute it went on TV, sales went through the roof. And it really was fresh, and it...

Hobson: What was the line?

Addicks: This box never closes.

Hobson: Simple as that?

Addicks: Simple as that. Show me what that looks like. And so what's the lesson there? Some of it is letting go. It's like giving the right nugget of an idea. And then the creative team was just great. And they came back and they went off for a week. And they came back and they were like, here is 10 ways this box never closes.

It was like, whoa. I like that one, but I also like that one and that one and that one. And so, then you put your marketing hat on. Like which one is the longest living, can go other places? Where does this evolve to? And you do all that stuff.

Hobson: How long do you give an idea like that to work? I mean do you give it a year or six months or what? When you come up with a new idea, how long is the test time?

Addicks: The truth from me is you really, we... I mean, if you really believe in the idea and you know something's there, you may not get it right the first time. So, it's really great to have patience. And say, and then what I just said earlier, learn iteratively and make sure that you believe in the foundation of the idea. There are other times when you just need to get off the idea. And because the truth is, great ideas work instantly and you do see them instantly. The truth is, you won't have a great idea, great execution every time. You may have a great concept, but it's not executed or brought to life in the right way.

So there, have patience. But, it's pretty intuitive and there's not a rule and there's not a way. But you know...

Hobson: It's not like you'll sit around for three years with an idea and go, oh. Finally, it's working.

Addicks: Yeah. No, that's when you say, OK. Is the paint dry? Like, you know, this is so painful. And the truth is, behind every business, there are people depending on that business. I mean, you're employing people and you're, you know. It's not just you sitting around in our wonderful office. It's like there are people working at the plant, there people involved in every process.

They believe, they're holding you responsible, like you have the idea. You know how this works. This will work, right? And you've invested capital. So, you can't sit around. You've got to be urgent.

Hobson: Let's talk social responsibility and social good for a second. You've been involved in a lot of things like that, including Box Tops for Education.

Addicks: Yep. So, one thing that I think is really interesting about this time is that, as consumers, the world of brand management is evolving. And I would submit that brands consumers are asking, let me know everything about the brand. But, now I want to know more. Like who is this company? What's their imprint?

And they're also asking, if the brands going to really come into my life, like what cause are they part of. Are they part of a cause I care about or what social change did they advocate?

Hobson: Consumers are thinking about all that stuff?

Addicks: They are. They're starting to and you're seeing it. And then it's been moved along and... So, I think where brands affiliate, what cause they take up, can be extremely powerful and powerful acts of demonstrating the good a brand can do.

So, Box Tops for Education is what we would call a broader platform. It really takes, it says we care about education. We want to help support your local schools. It has taught us a lot.

It's very interesting, as consumers want it on more General Mills brands. We put it on more General Mills brands. Then they said, I want you to be, give me other ways on the Internet. We opened the Box Tops Marketplace, where they can shop and save money.

Give me community meetings where we can share ideas for my school, it's Box Top University.

Give me more brands. We actually, almost half of the brands are from other companies now. So, it's a broader imprint.

But, the net net result of that is, it's 12 years old. In the 12 year period, it's given 375 million dollars to schools. And this year, we're on track to give 50 million dollars.

And so, trying to learn and apply across the board, you can see what we learned as a group of people, now taken to Yoplait, where we've done, Save Lids For Save Lives. The Yoplait brand is about championing women's lives.

They said show me, we connected with the Susan G. Komen. Twelve years later, that's over 25 million and most of it all to the local affiliates. And the stories go on and on.

Cheerios is the largest distributor of children's books, 50 million books.

Hobson: And there are certain people in each of these cases, that looks at a box that's got Susan G. Komen on it and says, I want to buy that because I feel like that is connecting with people like me or what?

Addicks: You know, truthfully, I think at one time, it might have been, there was some of that. The truth is, more and more they're saying, OK. You've got a pink ribbon on your box or your cup or your... But, tell me more. Like what are you really doing? Are you really, how much are you raising? What do you, how are you really.

Hobson: But, how do you convince them that you're for real and that it's not just a gimmick?

Addicks: Well, I think it's got to be real dollars. It's got to be a meaningful level. It's got to be the right partner. It's got to demonstrate good, all the way down to the local level, if you can. That's what's so great about Box Tops. People see it in their schools.

Hobson: It's interesting that you talk about the local level. This is a company that is operating in many, many countries around the world. How do you stay local?

Addicks: Well, that's, you need to. You have a broad idea, but you want to bring it down because it's about, brands live in peoples lives. And so the more you can bring it down to someone's life, the more you're going to have a more realistic engagement.

Hobson: Do you get involved in marketing in various parts of the country or various parts of the world in different ways?

Addicks: Yeah, we do. People will bring their brand forward. We will look at a brand in a certain country. There are a lot of times we look at brands in markets and brands that are more regional that we are doing. So, we have a brand, a great brand called "LARABAR," which is a company that we acquired. She is still with the company, has a very local imprint, and we study that as well. We are involved in that.

Hobson: Do you think that big corporations like General Mills are doing enough good for society?

Addicks: That is a pretty tough standard. You can never do enough. I think we do a lot of good; from our foundation to the percentage of our pretax profits, the huge imprint of things like box ups. I mean, we do out pays, a lot of our committers. I think the most important thing is culturally some of the things we do, because that goes all the way into our culture. Over 80 percent of the people volunteer. I always joke, people go to General Mills, it feels a little bit like junior high or elementary school, because there is always a bake sale or somebody's cause. I mean, literally everyday, we try to be very creative, but it is a very highly involved place.

We try to be involved not just with dollars, but for instance, there is a program that we do I am very proud of, called "Good Works," which is assigning people to nonprofits. They do two month engagements, and they work on intellectual capital and what we do every day: What is the brand? What is the positioning? What is the business plan, and the like?

There are a lot of ways that General Mills tries to give back.

Hobson: When you think big picture, what do you worry about? What keeps you up?

Addicks: For me, and people in my media teams, I think the biggest thing I worry about is the legacy of this period of time. So, what is great about a company like General Mills, but I am sure at P&G and I am sure at Minnesota Public Radio, is you exist and you draft off things people did 10 years and 20 years ago. A lot of times, we don't think or acknowledge that as much, but I have seen many cases where, "Oh, my God! Somebody made a really smart decision in 1970, and thank God they did." Personally, I worry all the time in the world; new media, questions you are asking, social, the way we engage consumers, are we making the decisions today that are going to keep General Mills a successful place?

Hobson: And are you? I mean, can you think of a decision that you have made that you know will 20 years from now be looked back on as something, "Thank God, they did that."

Addicks: You know, did we do enough? I don't know. I think some of the decisions we have made, we have gone very early into social and digital. We have gone very early in being heavily aggressive about being multicultural and bringing all of America into our brands. Those are absolutely the right thing to do. Did we do it fast enough, enough? Time will tell. Time will tell. That is what makes it kind of so worrisome.

Hobson: You are listening to "Bright Ideas." I am Jeremy Hobson. My guest is Mark Addicks, Chief Marketing Officer for General Mills. We are going to take some audience questions in a minute, but first I want to get to a couple of local questions. We are here in St. Paul. You have owned a couple of businesses, and you are still an investor in one.

Addicks: That is right. I have done a lot of and it is great that I could do this while I worked at General Mills, but I was an investor and helped plan a bar and a restaurant. That was an incredibly great experience. You can learn things from small businesses and large businesses. In that I learned, "Yes, it is the big idea, and how you position the space," and all of that. There were some lessons of how we planned and designed the space that you can bring into what I do everyday. But, the other lesson I learned was like, "You better have a drink special."


Addicks: What I saw was a lot of small businesses lose their way by that's all they do is, "What is the soup of the day? What is the drink special?" and they miss the big picture. But, as brands, you need to have something that says, "Why now? Why I am engaging with you today." I get the bigger picture, but the urgency of 'now.' What is the 'now'? So, that was kind of the lesson there. I am an investor right now with a business called "Cupcake," and it is a competitive world of cupcakes, but a lot of the same things that I have tried to influence there: What is the brand? What is the positioning? Having a brand champion, all of this stuff that Cupcake has employed, and what is different about the cupcakes? They each have a personality. Fundamentally, they taste great...

Hobson: Have you, as the Chief Marketing Manager of General Mills, you have time to think about each one of the cupcakes and the brand champions?

Addicks: No, no, no. I don't do it, the owner does. I mean, he owns it. He is the majority and all of that, but I say, "You should think about these things." A lot of them he has thought about, but down to a tag line; a little sweetness goes a long way. How many will remember you? What is the brand about and like? So, I love that. I taught for five years at night at St. Thomas. I loved that, because you could walk in at night and teach a course, and this is an incredible region. So, I would have course studied and practiced, and thought I knew exactly what I was going to teach, and then you would hear students from Medtronic, or Target, or SUPERVALU, or Dairy Queen, or Best Buy, and they would think about a problem totally different.

I will truthfully say, it just got to be too much in terms of my schedule, but I learned so much just by hearing how other people thought about the same problem.

Hobson: All right. Let's talk about the state that we are in, Minnesota.

Addicks: Yes.

Hobson: Test your marketing skills. So, market Minnesota to me.

Addicks: The smartest place in America. [applause]

Addicks: No. I mean, I don't want to get off on another tangent, but I am worried about Minnesota. I care about Minnesota, and I think about it like it breathes. If somebody said, "You are going to market Minnesota." What you do as a marketer is you say, "OK. What are the inherent assets? What is great about this place? What is different, and then, are any of those things unique and own able, and really stand alone?" I mean, there is a couple of thoughts I have on this. I think we need to do a much better job of marketing it. If you took the brief of Minnesota today, you would start looking at a lot of things, but one of the things that stands out to me is it literally is the smartest place, like people have the highest education level. That is pretty powerful in a world where people are looking for smart labor, smart places to do things.

This is actually maybe the biggest consumer marketing hub in the country. The only rival is Chicago and Cincinnati. There is a good argument that with all of the companies here, the great companies Target, Best Buy, you name it there are more brands here, and there have been a couple of small companies recently, that have moved from non tax states because of the talent base here.

Hobson: All right. So, you taught the great aspects of Minnesota. What about the preconceived notions that people on the outside already have? Do you have to deal with that?

Addicks: Absolutely, it is a great lesson in marketing. We call that the 'accepted consumer beliefs,' "Oh, it is frigid and they are all wearing plaid, and they are not stylish," and all of that. [laughter]

Addicks: So, that is a powerful thing if that is in your head. One of the easiest things to do is let me surprise you, because I am thinking about this kind of stuff all of the time. Maybe I am a nerd, but I was driving, thinking one time, I was like, "We should be running sponsorships on public radio out in California saying, 'Are you tired about this mess?'" [laughter]

Addicks: Like, "Would you like your kid to walk to school again?"

Hobson: But then, the preconceived notion of the person out in California is, "Isn't that the place where they elected the wrestler and the comedian in the office?"

Addicks: Yes, or the action hero in California.

Hobson: That is an attribute.

Addicks: You would think through it. That was a cheap idea, but you get the picture. I mean, I think you look at there are some very unique characteristics about this place; that the number of companies, the type of businesses, the entrepreneurial culture, but the foundation of some of those things is... We always ask, "Why? Why? Why?" It is the smart culture, the people. I think there is a unique positioning for Minnesota.

Hobson: All right. Well, we are here in Minnesota. Let's ask some audience members to ask their questions. Anybody who has a question. We have got a couple of people with microphones, and they will make their way to you. How about that young lady in the back? Can we do that? OK. We'll get to her in a second, but we'll start over here. Can you say your name, and where you are from first?

John: My name is John, and I am from Minnesota. My question is; was there ever a moment where you disagreed on what General Mills was moving forward on?

Addicks: Wow! Was there ever a moment I disagreed with General Mills on what they were moving forward on? Yeah. There have been moments. We argue and we talk, and talk about, "Should we go in this area or that area?" or "Here is why we should really go behind this product." That is part of the process.

Hobson: I mean, you don't want to talk about one that is going on right now, but can you remember one that is long in history, that you actually really did have a disagreement about something?

Addicks: Well, I think it is more... Maybe there is a moment where you said, "I think we should go into this business" or "Here is something we should market" or "Here is a promotional partner, I really feel strongly we should do." I mean, it is an environment where ideas went out, so you argue about this all of the time.

Hobson: Did you ever have an idea that was a terrible idea, that you remember what it was and it didn't go anywhere?

Addicks: Oh, yeah. Oh, I have had a bunch of terrible ideas. Yeah. [laughter]

Addicks: No, I really have.

Hobson: Like a freak of Cheerios, or something like that?

Addicks: No. Nothing that bad. [laughter]

Addicks: But, I have launched things that were probably not even though this is why market research is directional, where a lot of the indicators said, "Oh, that is a great idea, Yoplait Pudding," and it was not a great idea. It wasn't true to what the brand was. The best thing you do is stand back and say, "What did we learn from this?" So, I have made a lot of mistakes.

Hobson: Do we have another audience question? Right up there.

Woman 2: What is your favorite or most exciting trend that is happening in food right now and most interesting thing that is happening in food, and/or the most interesting food trend that is relevant to General Mills?

Addicks: Maybe both, but one of the ones that I really, really like and I think is still under leverage is, there is a big thing going on with vegetables, a big thing going on in vegetables. In the recession, I think most people pulled back and said, "Instead of a bunch of expensive medicines, what do I eat and how can that help me?" Vegetables are like one of the greatest things you can eat. There is a lot of great data around them, and there are just all kinds of interesting things around vegetables. So, one of the things that we talk about, there is this thing called 'flexitarians.'

So, one of the big changes, and these things happen glacially, but really one of the big things is happening is people have gone vegetarian for part of the week. That is a big trend. Vegetables are moving from the side of the plate to the middle of the plate in a more powerful way. Vegetables are becoming much more versatile of the different ways you can eat them, and how people are thinking about them.

So, I think vegetables are pretty exciting. Sorry, but I do.


Addicks: I just realized how that sounded. I think that is one... A really great category in a lot of ways that I think is still in its infancy is yogurt, and all of the different ways that it can play a role in peoples lives.

Hobson: Do you think there are more ways to make a yogurt go?

Addicks: Yeah, and Jeremy, that sounded very skeptical. Yes, I do. [laughter]

Hobson: Yogurt wasn't enough?

Addicks: No, there is more. But, I would say the one and we watch a lot of trends, I have really been intrigued by vegetables.

Hobson: Right over here. If you could say your name first.

Katie: I am Katie from Minnesota. My question was you mentioned that you have looked in the archives and found successful ideas in the past, and you have found out like the concept of them and wanted to turn them into a successful idea today. Can you mention one that you found, that was really interesting in the past that you have brought to the future?

Addicks: Oh, gosh! Yes. Let me see. Well, I will give you one right now that I think is pretty interesting. There is a Lifestyle brand that we have launched and it is an open source, what we would call an 'open source' brand, so there are other brands that are participating. It was a way for us to have a larger brand platform that we could put a lot of our brands under for Hispanics, targeting Hispanics. You may not have seen it, but it has high innate awareness. It has got a television presence for Univision. It has got some radio. It goes in stores. It goes in the community. It is about to expand more, and the brand is called "Que Rica Vida," which means, what a rich life or what a wonderful life.

The fundamental premise is looking at the Hispanic brand champion, this queso woman and very specific. The truth is she came to this country, because she wanted to have a better life for her and her family. She wanted to re change the roles a little bit. She really has high respect for the traditions of her past life in Mexico, but she wants to be a different kind of mom. She wants to have a different life; all of the great things that our country gives us.

The real un lacking for me as we started on this idea was and it was really funny, because it directly goes back to the archives. There are books written about Betty Crocker. I went back and it is pretty right there, the original formula for Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker in the '40s and '50s, was really a hugely social brand. We were answering 4000 letters a day. We were hiring people. She was probably number two to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hobson: Wow!

Addicks: There were thousands of people coming through every year touring the kitchens. We're still one of the largest cookbooks, huge, one of the largest food content sites. But, when you really get down to what Betty Crocker was doing, the big movement going on in America was from rural to urban. And so, when you can, you personalize.

So, I was remembering my mom, grew up on a farm, father was a CPA. They left the farm, found themselves living in a suburban neighborhood, rock roof, largely Jewish neighborhood.

All next door neighbors were Chinese, different, different, different. Kids running home from school going "I like calzone, "And my mother was like "What is calzone?"

We were invited to a bridge party, bring an appetizer. "What's an appetizer? Can somebody tell me?"

And Betty Crocker was helping translate the new world. You want to have this world. You moved off the farm; let's make it a wonderful life.

The imprint and the design of Betty Crocker has helped us tremendously find the voice, the tone, and everything for Que Rica Vida. It's different; it recognizes the powerful differences. But, that's a translation of something old is new again.

And she is really being confronted. She, in Mexico, where her family is from, the mother is the absolute always physical center of the house, is a high user recipe, defines herself by this is my recipe, this is my version of that, is the hub of the house. And what could happen here is she could get pushed out of that circle. And what is happening is kids run home and like "Mom, I love pizza." OK, I think I know what pizza is. "Mom, I like this, I like that."

So, what we're doing is pushing her back into the center and helping her do that and saying "You're going to have a great life here."

So, please go to the website. It has got videos, it's got social. The magazine has half a million subscribers, it's huge, lots of social content, highly mobile.

What most people don't realize when we think about traditional media, the bias people always say "Oh, it's white men first, white Caucasians, the upper educated." The fastest adopter of mobile and some of these new platforms are actually Hispanics and African Americans.

So, they've taught us a lot in this process and moved forward all the ways to engage and co create. So, we're doing a lot of new stuff that they're informing everything else.

But, it was the basic archive, how did this Betty Crocker thing work? What role did she play? What service did she give? And she really helped translate that new experience for a lot of people like my mom.

Hobson: Mark Addicks, what are you a brand champion for?

Addicks: That's a great question. Today, I'm a brand champion for, when I describe it I'm going to sound pandering, I don't mean to. Probably New York Times and Minnesota Public Radio or National Public Radio. You go to my house right now and you're going to find a half I eat Cheerios. I really do. I eat a lot of Yoplait. Am I a brand champion? I'm a brand champion for those things, yes. There are other things. I'm kind of a Caribou brand champion. I haven't met the guy who is the marketer; he's been there for two years. I've been studying him. But, I love the sentiment of Caribou right now. It's changed, the design changed. They say really great things, if you pick up and notice. I love the quiz every day. So, in a very small way, I'm a Caribou brand champion.

Hobson: Let's get a couple more audience questions here.

Alex: Well, thank you very much. My name is Alex and I live here in Minnesota. I work for a Fortune 100 technology company. And my question is around my current role which is trying to drive adoption of an internal shared service within my organization. So, we've got 35,000 people that I'm trying to reach on a daily basis with this service. And I'd like to try social media, but the pushback I'm getting is how do you measure it?

You had talked, Mark, about a brand that you had had great success with. You had mentioned that Fiber One had been a branch that you had launched solely through social media. And I'm really interested in hearing you describe how you measured success, so I can go back to my management team and say "This really works."

Addicks: Ultimately, we measured it in sales. And what was beautiful about this was that there really wasn't anything else and we could actually track the daily sales to some of the postings that people had done. It was like, seriously, you know, I am a numbers person. And I made them go back and "This can't be right. Can we rerun these numbers; they don't look right." And they were like four times before I would take it to our bosses and say "Look at this." And that was really when the light went on.

And then the other thing is like is not demystifying some of it. So, involving bloggers, who may talk about it, and the like, is really no different than what went on about 20 years ago when you used to do a thing called desk sides. And your PR people would go sit down with the editor of Parents Magazine and say "There's a new product and this is what it does" and then they would write and 200,000 people would read it. That's a little bit what's going on today, if you think about them that way.

So, one of the words of advice I would give you is, sometimes to try a new medium, you should think about the ways to translate it and provide a metaphor so that everybody goes "Oh, yes, I got it. OK, we can think about it that way."

I think where we get in trouble is when we think about these things as so different. And in many ways, they're evolutions of things that existed before.

But, specifically, like bloggers, there are more of them. It's like you split off the columnists from the newspapers. But, it's shocking how many readers they have. And what's great about it is its quality that kind of grabs crowds.

But, if you've got Google Tools, it's a very democratic world. You can go and kind of say "Who is writing about these things? Who is getting the most heat? Maybe I should contact them and let them see what this brand is about."

But, you're going to have to figure out. Sometimes you do figure out other ways that are shadow metrics, so to speak. But eventually, in the case of a for profit business, you're going to link them to sales.

Hobson: Let's take two more questions from the audience, over there.

Luke Frederick: Luke Frederick, not from Minnesota alone, but Shore View. [laughter]

Frederick: Question for you, I'm in a community of entrepreneurs. And so we don't have budgets like you. When we spend money, if it's miscalculated, it's got big ramifications for us. So, I'm curious for you, working with small business owners and other entrepreneurs, what would you recommend from a marketing side, biggest bang for your buck kind of, what should we be doing, how should we be strategizing marketing dollars, all that kind of stuff. So, kind of if you can bring it down.

Addicks: Yes, yes, no absolutely, because I think for us, as we've designed and evolved our brand name programs, I mean the truth is in trying to learn the best branding practices right now and add them to our foundation, they should work on a big brand with a lot of money and they should work on a brand that has no money, that's tiny. The fundamental concepts are usually what I tell friends who are starting a business. Who is the brand fundamentally, you do what we call a brand architecture, it's the brand positioning. Like what are the assets you want to own? When somebody hears your brand, like what do you want them to see?

What do you want the visual icons to be? Is there a slogan you want? What do you want the brand to stand for every time? So, what is the benefit of the brand, so to speak? What's the tone and personality of the brand?

Fundamentally, who is the brand champion you have in mind, because that's who you want to go out. Even if you I mean, you don't need a lot of money today. One of the companies I love and we've gotten to know well is a guy who is from here originally, Eric Ryan, who did Method which is actually a 200 or a 300 million dollar brand started from nothing, no advertising budget.

But, entrepreneurs can create big things today. It's who is the brand champion? The one thing that I don't see a lot of small businesses immediately grasp is, as soon as you have advocates, connect. Just the same thing we try to do, connect. And let them tell you more. How can the brand be better for you? What else can you do?

People, actually, I hope they don't become jaded, but today, people love to be connected to brands. They would love to give you their ideas.

I probably shouldn't say the brand name, but sometimes when I'm getting a cold I use Benadryl. And every time I open the package I go like "I am going to call that brand manager. This is the worst package in the world."


Addicks: It drives me crazy. Like you can never get it out; I practically stab myself. And I've been thinking like "Why don't you call him?" But there are millions of people, even for small businesses. So, like in the example of Cupcake. Who are the advocates? What can they tell you about what you should do next? How can you let them market to others? What do you love about the brand?

So, this morning, as part of this Good Works program, I won't say, because maybe they don't want me to, but there's a local small theater. And we have a team consulting them and I always look at the projects.

And one of the things that you saw right away is we have people bring all their stuff and I said "I'm looking at your program and what's different about your brand experience. It's exactly like every other program. You know, you have a great brand champion. Why don't you put other brand champions in here? Why don't you let them tell other people 'Here's what I love about this theater?' Why don't you turn it social?"

So, there are millions of small brands winning by going highly social, high touch, high advocate. And you don't have to have a lot of money. In fact, not having money and not advertising makes you more authentic, more organic, more worth discovering. So, you actually have an advantage. That's what I usually tell people.

Hobson: Let's get one more question from the audience, over here.

John: Hi, I'm John from Minneapolis. You've done a great job detailing some of the ways that you communicate and converse with your customers and ultimately the consumers. Ultimately, between you and the consumer, there's the retailer and I guess that's kind of a one step removed from you guys. How much time do you spend thinking about the shopping experience itself? And another part of that question, I guess, is some brands, especially one that I'm thinking of in sportswear, that's kind of grown up in the digital age is, I guess, being more aggressive about both retail distribution as well as kind of going direct to consumer and using e commerce to hit the consumer directly.

And I guess, how do some of those thoughts impact your business?

Addicks: Wow, those are good questions. They dovetail a little bit with the previous question, which I love, which is the one thing that you don't... If you have a lot of money, sometimes you skip this step and it's the most important step, but it's like, actually get out there with the consumer, the intended brand champion, observe them and watch them. So, I love to do this. I love to go back and get reoriented and just sit in the store and watch people and walk them. Absolutely, part of your brand experience isn't when you get home and open the box of shoes, it's the consideration stage, it's like how did you think about it? It's like, what was the service like? So, understand the full brand experience, I would say.

And so, we work pretty closely with retailers. It's a great time to do that, because Target wants to be different and they are different than Wal Mart and Costco. And they want us to like "Tell me how your brand comes to life in my retail environment?" So, if you're a marketer, you just love questions like that.

And so what I would tell you is we spend a lot of time thinking about the consumer's, the shopper's experience. It really fascinates, it's a little bit on the irrational logic, but the truth is, for dinner, which is there are gradations of people, it's fascinating, but the real organized people are online at eight o'clock in the morning figuring out what's for dinner.

Then at noon, there's 19 million people who get online and do banking and what's for dinner.

In the afternoon, at four o'clock, those are the people you don't want to see, because it's like "Oh my God, what's for dinner?'

And then the people who really are amazing are the people who literally run into the store at 5:30 and they go the freezer case of meat and go "What's for dinner?"

And so, you've got to think about all those different shopping experiences and so part of the brand experience is having a great digital experience for those people that are very planful.

And by the way, those people are different by day. So, the yelling at the freezer case person might have been the eight o'clock in the morning person two days ago. But, a lot of things have happened in between.

And also understanding the psychology of shoppers during the week, I mean, it's just like a fascinating thing. But, there really are segments and they're true across categories.

They're just fascinating. Sunday night to Monday morning at about 10, we're very planful. It's going to be a great week, here's how it goes. We maintain that until about Tuesday.

Tuesday night into Wednesday, it's like "So, when were you going to Cleveland?" "OK, so they're not doing the soccer and we don't have this?" So everything falls apart and you see a total different change. You see more people ordering pizza and stuff.

And then you get into Thursday and it's like weekend aspirationals "Oh, we're going to have a great weekend." And you let kids stay up later that night and you kind of go through like "Oh, we made it through the week."

It so fascinates, understanding the psychology of your brand champion. And you don't need money. You just need time, you need empathy, you need curiosity, you need great listening skills, you need great powers of observation. And the individuals who are great at it could have been at General Mills for 30 years or they just walked in the door, that's why you got to let them go.

Hobson: And we will leave it there. Mark Addicks, thank you so much.

Addicks: Thank you very much. Thank you. [applause]


Transcription by CastingWords


As senior vice president, chief marketing officer, Addicks has overall responsibility for the General Mills' world-class marketing function and its marketing services organization, Gcom. He's been with the company since 1988.

In his role, Addicks has oversight responsibilities for the company's global brand-building strategy, including its advertising, promotions, public relations, design, packaging, online, licensing and multicultural initiatives. He also oversees some of the industry's most recognized equity platforms, including Box Tops for Education and the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest. Addicks also has pioneered several cutting-edge marketing ventures.