Sep 13, 2011 • By

Everything old is new again

Millions of kids have recently returned to school, while millions of parents, in turn, are serving up their favorite breakfast cereals as part of the morning routine.

Some parents may even be serving the brands they loved as kids. For the past few years, General Mills has recognized this nostalgia with limited edition retro-themed cereal boxes that take people back in time to the good old days.

Our first five-week retro promotion in 2008 featured five cereals in their original packaging design from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. The promotion was exclusive to Target and was supported with ad circulars, promotional space at checkout lanes, radio promotions, web-based trivia contest and a mail-in T-shirt offer.

Consumer response was strong from the moment the boxes hit the shelves. And demand for the products remained consistent throughout the campaign’s limited run.

“Clearly we struck a chord with consumers,” says Lindsay Backer, an associate marketing manager in General Mills’ Big G division who works with Target and other retailers to make the consumer experience fun and engaging.

“Over the last several years, consumers have been getting back to basics, that includes comfort food and value-based purchases. Our retro program is a reflection of that trend and the good feelings you get when you purchase familiar, time-tested, quality products.”

The promotion has blossomed into an annual campaign – with sales doubling over the first year and a team of marketers working year-round to make each campaign fresh, engaging and novel.

This year’s campaign – in the spring – featured box designs voted on by consumers (Cheerios, Trix, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms), a Twitter party with live chats, and a tie-in with classic cartoons including Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo on

Lindsay says one reason for the campaign’s success is that the designs are authentic. “We’ve taken them straight from archives and tweak them only to meet certain standards, such as updating the product image and ingredient and nutritional labeling,” she says.

General Mills has also received recognition for having one of the more savvy and sophisticated campaigns in the retro trend, Lindsay says. Adweek called General Mills’ retro campaign “as reassuring as footie pajamas” and “a genius way to redefine comfort food at a tough economic time …”

“Some companies may need to force the retro issue, but General Mills can clearly demonstrate history and true nostalgia around its brands,” says Lindsay, who was born in 1979, making her too young to remember any of the retro boxes in their original form.

She laughs. “My time will come, but in the meantime, I think the designs are incredibly cool and stand on their own as attractive works of art.”