Did you know that cereal companies are trying to subliminally brainwash kids into becoming lifetime cereal loyalists? That’s what a recent study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab concluded based on findings that kids’ cereal characters tend to look downward toward children in an attempt to make eye contact.
The study unleashed a flurry of mainstream media and blogger attention. A quick Google search pulls up a bevy of scintillating headlines from the likes of Forbes, NBC, ABC, CBS, USA Today, Huffington Post and many others. While some will certainly find the study thought-provoking, the interesting story, in my opinion, is how one major food processor chose to respond.
Cornell released its study on April 2, and media coverage hit a fever pitch the next day. Less than 24 hours later, General Mills’ VP of Global Communications, Tom Forsythe, took to the company’s blog to defend Trix Rabbits’ honor, and to poke a few giant holes in Cornell’s approach. Whether you agree with Mr. Forsythe’s position or not, the way he responded is a great example of how brands should be using social channels to be more responsive, flexible and human.
In fact, the blog response illustrates a few reasons why every brand should at least consider having a corporate blog:
- Reach the people directly, in real time. The fact that General Mills manages an active corporate blog gave the company an easy channel for responding and communicating its position on the Cornell research. I’d guess the release of this particular study, and the media coverage it generated, didn’t necessarily sound the crisis alarms for the Big G. The scenario, however, illustrates how a corporate blog can be a powerful update tool in times of crisis. Instead of issuing a formal statement and sending it through traditional media to be published 24 hours later, General Mills jumped into the conversation in real time.
- Communicate transparently. A corporate blog, if executed right, can be a great way to build trust by giving stakeholders a behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening internally. While Mr. Forsythe’s response didn’t reveal any dark secrets about deceptive marketing practices, his post certainly reinforced that the company has nothing to hide.
- Win the search game. By blogging in response to the cereal study, General Mills helped ensure its point of view will be represented in search engine results. In fact, when searching for General Mills and the cereal study, Mr. Forsythe’s blog response and several blogs praising it are among the top results. #winning
- Add a human touch. One thing I appreciated about the General Mills’ response was that it came from a human with a name. I feel like many companies in a similar situation would’ve opted to post a generic corporate response to this type of research (or not respond at all). Instead General Mills allowed one of its communicators to respond personally. Not only does using a human voice build trust and add credibility, but it also humanizes the brand – something many large corporate organizations struggle to do.
- Tell the people what you really think. The thing I liked most about Mr. Forsythe’s response was the blunt tone. Obviously this approach won’t work in all scenarios, but in this case it hit the mark perfectly. It made the company look rational and logical, rather than sheepish or defensive. And the fact that it was bylined by an executive sent a clear, effective message.