General Mills is creating quite a stir with its hiring of two unrepentant potheads to promote its latest box of Fiber One.
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong burst on to the national scene in the late 1970s with a movie about smuggling pot and getting endlessly stoned. Since then, getting high on marijuana has been at the heart of the duo's comedy.
Now the iconic stoners are back pitching magic brownies. Not ones laced with marijuana — as their fans might think — but fiber to help with digestion, regularity and other health matters.
Cheech and Chong star in a Web-only mock movie trailer about delivering General Mills' Fiber One brownies to a mythical festival.
"Chewy chocolaty brownies that are 90 calories and high in fiber," an announcer says.
Exclaims Chong: "What?"
"Fiber," the announcer says. "Fiber, because now that you're getting older you need a new kind of magic from your brownie."
Eventually, Chong endorses them.
"Get high on fiber," he says.
General Mills recruited Cheech and Chong to win attention — and hopefully sales — for the brownies, which were brought to market earlier this year.
"We thought it would resonate the best with boomers," said Jim Wilson, who manages the Fiber One brownie campaign for General Mills. "And we thought the fun and nostalgia of Cheech and Chong, and nostalgia for the 60s and 70s would really take hold."
The two comedians are also helping change the company change the image of Fiber One by associating the brand with humor, Wilson said.
"When you think of fiber, you don't necessarily think of fun," he said.
What about the baggage Cheech and Chong carry? Chong spent several months in prison for selling marijuana paraphernalia. When they kicked off their "Light up America" reunion tour in 2008, both Cheech and Chong said they were still smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana.
"What you've seen in the movies is really the characters they are playing," Wilson said. "That's really what we wanted to play up was more the characters and not so much anything else that kind of comes with them."
"The characters are so familiar and generally fun loving," he said. "People really have responded very well to that sense of humor that we've demonstrated."
Chances are good that many of Cheech and Chong's fans have smoked pot. A 2007 federal survey found 42 percent of Americans 26 years of age of older admit — or recall — that they've smoked marijuana. Among 18 to 25-year-olds, 51 percent said they had used marijuana in their lifetimes.
On the Fiber One Facebook page, some folks have chastised General Mills' alliance with Cheech and Chong, saying the company is making light of — or even encouraging — drug use.
But other consumers disagree. Jennifer Smith of Duncan, Oklahoma defended General Mills.
"Of course, Cheech and Chong were known for getting high," said Smith, 33, who recalls watching Cheech and Chong with her mother. "But I think it's all just in fun. I don't think Fiber One is actually condoning drug use like some people are saying."
Still, enlisting two perpetual potheads as pitchmen doesn't exactly fit in with the company's sober and wholesome image.
"They're doing some things to try to be a little bit more creative and inventive," said John Purdy, a professor of advertising and public relations at the University of St. Thomas. "I think it does change their image a little bit. But maybe that's the disarming thing they want to use to get people's attention."
Purdy thinks General Mills' pothead pitchmen will help the company more than hurt it.
"Sometimes even just a little controversy helps the marketing program a little bit because it gets some buzz and attention," he said.
Purdy said the campaign is a smart nostalgia play.
"A lot of people of the age group that they're trying to reach with fiber have fond memories of that era and they kind of like to be reminded of it," he said.
"Cheech and Chong are part of that generation and seeing them again probably revives some memories of fun times. I think it's probably a good choice."