Sold in Canada, UK, and Australia this breakfast cereal was a boring and dying brand until…. Find out how a simple twist made all the difference to their advertising and promotion

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts |  Google Podcasts |  Amazon Music |  Blubrry |  RSS |  More



Dave Young:
Welcome to The Empire Builders podcast. Dave Young here, along with Stephen Semple, and as usual, Stephen just gives me a loose idea of a topic, and then I have to… It’s almost like a quiz show, Stephen, and today it’s just the number 58. It’s the number 58. What could that possibly mean? We’ve already done 57, that’s fine.

Stephen Semple:
There you go. There we go. It’s quite a bit of a roll here. We now can prove to people we can count. We went from 57 to 58. Yeah, 58 is an important number for you and I, because it now means we’ve been releasing this podcast on a weekly basis for a year. But then people go, “But wait a minute, Steve, there’s 52 weeks in a year.” Well, we started with six episodes, because one of the things in podcasting they talk about doing is, you should start with a bunch in the can because when people come to your episode, often what they want to do is, they discover it, they like it, they want to be able to binge. 58 is a year. So look, we’re going to have to have a little celebration and fireworks and it’s a big deal. And that’s the other important question. You up for another year, Dave?

Dave Young:
Sure, I love doing this. We’ve got some of our partners and friends that are helping in the background with this, and we have a 92% listen through rate.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, that was Matthew shared that.

Dave Young:
Matthew, okay.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, because he handles a lot of the social media postings around this.

Dave Young:
That’s a pretty good stat for a podcast. A lot of podcasts are like, “Eh, people just bail once they feel like they’ve got the meat of her.”

Stephen Semple:
One of the stats on podcasts is… I can’t remember whether it’s 25 or 30% of listeners drop off in the first five or 10 minutes.

Dave Young:
It’s always fun to record. The stories are always interesting. We both love how people build a business and the interesting things that they end up doing that make all the difference for them.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, and we have a fun one today. It’s a little different story, but we have another fun one that we’re going to go over today.

Dave Young:
Okay, are we going straight into that or is this just a…

Stephen Semple:
Let’s go straight into that. Let’s give people what they’re here for.

Dave Young:
Okay, all right. So I don’t even know what we’re going to be doing other than 58.

Stephen Semple:
Other than 58, well, what we’re doing is… Now this is a product not available in the U.S. It’s available in Canada, Australia, and UK. It’s a cereal that’s made by Post called Shreddies. So Dave, just for your benefit, I’m going to hold up the…

Dave Young:
Oh, we don’t have that in the U.S. of A. in Texas.

Stephen Semple:
So the important thing to note on Shreddies, is it’s a small square cereal made of shredded wheat.

Dave Young:
Is it the same as Shredded Wheat?

Stephen Semple:
It’s the same but very different because it’s really thin and tiny and crunchy.

Dave Young:
Okay.

Stephen Semple:
Really thin wafer. It was first introduced in 1939 by Nabisco, and it started in Canada. And one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about this one, it was made on Lewis Avenue in Niagara Falls, not far from where I was born. I was born in Fort Erie. Niagara Falls was just down the road, so I was born just…

Dave Young:
I just have to tell you I’m relieved to hear that it wasn’t a Kellogg’s product.

Stephen Semple:
Okay.

Dave Young:
All of his cereals were developed as a cure for masturbation at the Kellogg Clinic.

Stephen Semple:
Oh, that’s right.

Dave Young:
So I’m glad that this is not part of your growing up story though.

Stephen Semple:
No, no, nothing along that lines.

Dave Young:
Okay.

Stephen Semple:
So 2008, it became part of Post brand foods. And when Post took over, this brand was kind of tired and was on the chopping block, but they hired Nancy Bonk from Ogilvy & Mathers to revive the brand. And here’s the challenge. There was nothing new to say. You look at it, there’s nothing exciting about the cereal.

Dave Young:
There it is. It’s shredded wheat.

Stephen Semple:
Shredded wheat, and this was before the time of coming up with the honey flavored and all those other things. And not only that, Post didn’t really want to invest in that. So she had to come up with something to compete with other, more fun cereals because Shreddies was all but forgotten.

Dave Young:
It was already named Shreddies, so they didn’t come up with a new name? Okay.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, it was already named Shreddies. So they came up with this idea, and you’re going to love this, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek idea, because if there’s nothing new, make up something new. So here’s what she created. So again, these are little square thin cereal, right? So they decided to launch diamond-shaped Shreddies.

Dave Young:
Wait, you mean just turn it 45 degrees and it’s diamond shaped?

Stephen Semple:
Turn it 45 degrees and it’s diamond shaped.

Dave Young:
I love this woman.

Stephen Semple:
They had television ads. They had a multimedia thing showing focus groups, and all they were talking about was the new diamond-shaped Shreddies. They even did new packaging featuring diamond-shaped Shreddies. They also came out with a limited edition combo pack, half square, half diamond.

Dave Young:
I love this.

Stephen Semple:
In a second, I’ll grab a clip. I’ll grab the clip right now. Just a small ten second clip of one of the TV ads that was doing the whole focus group, made up focus group thing. And you got to hear this because this is just hilarious.

[Shreddies “Focus Group” Audio]
Interviewer:
Which one did you prefer, first of all?

Focus Group Participant 1:
The first one.

Interviewer:
The first one?

Focus Group Participant 1:
It had more flavor.

Interviewer:
Okay, that’s interesting because the first one was the diamond.

Focus Group Participant 2:
The diamond one felt more crunchy.

Focus Group Participant 2:
It’s better Shreddies.

Dave Young:
Oh my God. That’s amazing. So the first… Yeah, the diamond one tasted better.

Stephen Semple:
It was crunchier.

Dave Young:
Crunchier.

Stephen Semple:
Now, it’s crazy.

Dave Young:
Who doesn’t love a diamond, right?

Stephen Semple:
Who doesn’t love a diamond? So as crazy as this campaign was, it was a huge success. It won awards, it gained other media, TV. It was on the cover of Maclean’s Magazine, which is a big magazine up here. And sales rose 18%, which in the food category is massive. If you want to understand how big an impact that is, go back and listen to our one on chocolate. Why do chocolate companies do Super Bowl ads? Because it is an unbelievable number. Post even featured this as a case study to their global organization in terms of here’s what you can do. But the agency didn’t stop there. They had another idea.

Dave Young:
Oh good. People are willingly going along with this, right?

Stephen Semple:
Yeah.

Dave Young:
It just blows your mind, doesn’t it, that people get on board with this. This isn’t new. You’re in a focus group. They could pull them out of the same box right in front of you and hand you the diamond-shaped one.

Stephen Semple:
They had a tray and it was labeled square, and it had laid out all the square ones, and diamond and they laid out all the diamond ones. They asked you to pick one to try for comparisons.

Dave Young:
Either people are willingly playing along and loving it, or they’re stupid, and it doesn’t matter which.

Stephen Semple:
Come on, they’re playing along. So anyway, so the agency had another idea. So here’s what they came up with. Neil Diamond Shreddies.

Dave Young:
Oh, Neil Diamond Shreddies.

Stephen Semple:
Now here’s the thing with Neil Diamond. Neil Diamond didn’t do ads. He stood against using his name for promotion, but they sent it to him anyway, and he loved the idea. Here’s how much he loved the idea. Neil Diamond even offered to include a link on the package to a recording of Sweet Caroline that had been done in Canada and never released. Sweet Caroline. That was going to be part of the campaign. Song that everyone wants to sing, and it was going to have a Canadian tie in.

So here you have a proven campaign. You’re going to attach a celebrity. You’re going to attach this thing of scarcity, the Sweet Caroline song, with a release that ties back to Canada. Post loved the idea. Neil Diamond loved the idea. But before the release, a person at Post said, “You know what? We should do a focus group interview to make sure that this is a good idea.” And in the focus group, one quarter of the people said they did not like the campaign. They said there’s no real difference between the square and the diamond shaped. It was an insult to their intelligence and the campaign got pulled. It never went. And the diamond-shaped Shreddies campaign, which I want to remind you, increased sales 18%, was paraded out internationally as an example of great advertising, got yanked.

Stephen Semple:
Holy crap, right?

Dave Young:
This is the power of the focus group.

Stephen Semple:
This is the power…

Dave Young:
A room full of people is dumber than all the people.

Stephen Semple:
Now, before you get back on your high horse and go, “Well, that’s just stupid. I’d never make that mistake. That’s just a big dumb corporation.” We see this all the time. I’ve had campaigns that have been super successful. I can think of one where people were phoning in and singing just to sing the jingle, and this was for a heating and air conditioning company. And it was driving the needle, and it got yanked because one of the technician’s wife didn’t like the ad, and he complained to the boss about it. What do we say to people about also great ads? Great ads create complaints.

Dave Young:
An ad’s ability to attract is going to be equal to its ability to repel.

Stephen Semple:
We think about love and hate as being opposite emotions, and they aren’t. They are opposite sides of the same coin. To love something, you have to care about it. To love something, you are committed to an outcome. Well guess what? Hate’s the same thing.

Dave Young:
Here’s the thing. Shreddies, what an innocuous product. It’s families, it’s kids, it’s adults sitting around the breakfast table. And usually when you’re sitting around the breakfast table and everybody’s eating a bowl of cereal, I remember with my sisters, the big argument was who gets to read the box.

Stephen Semple:
Right.

Dave Young:
You’re bored. There’s nothing to do while you’re eating a bowl of cereal, so they put interesting things on the back of the boxes so you could read them and solve puzzles and do all the little things. And here they are, giving you a reason to have an absurd, whimsical conversation at the table and argue over whether you like the square ones or the diamond-shaped ones. They’re the same ones, but it’s a beautiful thing, and that focus group doesn’t take that serious. I think the problem with focus groups is, they build them up and probably tell them how important they are. They get a group of people that doesn’t understand advertising to weigh in on something that was intended to be absurd.

Stephen Semple:
A lot of it is how it’s set up. So here’s the lesson I want our customers to take away is, we’ve often said we stand against the committee. We don’t like the committee. We tell people, great ads create complaints, and you’ll be surprised at the complaints that they create, because love and hate is so close. And this is the reason why you just got to make the decision, not have committees, because you know what? As much as we want to laugh at Post and go, “I cannot believe how dumb that mistake was,” we see it all the time. So you know, what? Do stuff that’s fun, recognize it’s going to get complaints, and when something’s working, lean into it. When you talk about the whimsy, could you now imagine, over breakfast cereal, you decide to sing as a group, Sweet Caroline, a song that we all love to sing together. You would’ve had permission, because it’s the Neil Diamond Shreddies, to sing that song as a family over the breakfast table.

Dave Young:
And you could create a ritual for it in the commercial. Bom, bom, bom, chomp. That’s when you take the bite of the cereal, right?

Stephen Semple:
Oh my God. The places you could have gone with that. But it got yanked because of the result of a focus group. Now the other last thing I’m going to share on this is, we’ve seen this happen before, and the really smart CEOs say, “F— the focus group.” Steve Jobs did that with the famous Macintosh ad that was done in the Super Bowl. The focus group canned that ad, slaughtered it. And he said, “Screw you.”

Dave Young:
Yeah, I like using focus groups for one thing, and it’s not to evaluate ads. It’s to get a feel for how people feel about the business, the things that they like and don’t like about the business. You can get a lot of insight from a typical focus-type group if you get a group of customers together. But don’t ask them about the ads because that’s not fair. They don’t know about that. Ask them what they like about the business, and they’ll tell you. They’ll be honest.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, and that brings up a really important point, that you’re also framing the question as not an intellectual question. Because as soon as we ask somebody what they like, they go into intellectual mode. Here’s the problem with intellectual mode. We don’t buy intellectually. Sorry, engineers. We don’t buy intellectually. We buy emotionally. And so, therefore, to your point, you said something and I want people to understand this. You don’t ask the question, “What do you think of this company?” You ask question, “What do you like? How do you feel about this?”

Dave Young:
And in one group we did, I can’t name the client and I can’t name the product, but people loved the fact that this company did this one thing, this event every year. And then, “Have you ever gone to the event?” “No, but I love the fact that they do it. It was for the benefit of others.” They loved the fact that they do it. They did not participate in it, but they had a warm feeling about the company because they did it.

Stephen Semple:
That’s awesome.

Dave Young:
That’s all we want. So when you finally get hungry for cereal, man, I want you to just think, “Oh, you know what? I feel like some diamond-shaped cereal this morning.”

Stephen Semple:
As a marketer, advertising agency, the thing that rips my heart out, and I really feel for Nancy on this, is when you have this great idea that you know is going… Look, they knew it was going to work. It was already working, and it doesn’t move forward. Man, it is soul crushing, which is also one of the reasons why we really have a strong negotiation before I take clients on, because if I sense a client would be unwilling to run that campaign, I’m not taking them on as a customer.

Dave Young:
Yeah, especially if they’re in a boring category of a business.

Stephen Semple:
Absolutely.

Dave Young:
Breakfast cereal, plumbing.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, yeah, all of those.

Dave Young:
You’ve got to up the absurdity and the whimsy and the fun and just entertain people and then wait for them to get hungry or wait for them to have a drain clog.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, we should wrap this up, so let’s set off some fireworks since this has been our one year. This has been awesome, Dave, and here’s to the next year.

Dave Young:
Happy one year. Thanks for listening to the podcast. Please share us. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app, and leave us a big fat juicy five star rating and review. And if you have any questions about this or any other podcast episode, email to [email protected]