Cheerios pivots its Olympic platform to ‘cheer’ on food bank workers

The General Mills brand is finding new uses for ad space and athlete partnerships it had secured for this year's games.


Cheerios is adapting its longstanding Olympic platform, using a cheery animation and athletes to celebrate and amplify the heroism of food bank workers instead.

The General Mills brand is using the ad space originally slated for Olympic-themed creative to showcase Murray, an animated everyman based on an actual food bank volunteer meant to personify workers everywhere. With pastel hues, “Murray the “Brave” is shown boxing up food for those in need in a 30-second spot, including Cheerios, shipping out “cheer and hope.”

To support the initiative, parent company General Mills is also making a donation of $500,000 in cash and $600,000 in food products to Food Banks Canada.

Before this year’s Summer Olympics were postponed due to COVID-19, Cheerios had planned to update its “Cheer” platform to help Canadians support their favourite Olympic athletes as they headed to Tokyo. Fawad Farrukh, marketing director for the cereal portfolio at General Mills Canada, says the Cheerios brand purpose is to “bring cheer to the world,” and that the “applause” messaging was easily adaptable to include both food bank workers, as well as athletes.

Farrukh says “Murray the Brave” is the fastest campaign the brand has ever turned around, with decisions that typically take three to four days being made in a day. He adds that defining what “couldn’t be done” in a short time frame ended up being a critical restriction that motivated the team to come up with creative ideas.

Bilingual_OlympicAthletes-2Despite not competing this year, Farrukh says Olympians are “still a significant voice” that resonates with Canadians – the company is still planning to feature Olympians on special packaging that will appear in stores shortly, but it is also using that voice to amplify the campaign. The brand has a series of five social media videos starring Team Canada track and field athlete Andre De Grasse, swimmer Penny Oleksiak, gymnast Rosie MacLennan, skateboarder Matt Berger and diver Jennifer Abel. They will each reveal a “cheer” for individual food bank workers, whose faces will appear where an athlete’s might have on limited edition cereal boxes that won’t be available in stores. Yesterday, for example, Windsor Unemployed Help Centre food bank co-ordinator Lynda Davidson got her face on a cereal box, and the brand is mailing her the special edition package.

“Who’s better to cheer on [food bank workers] than the original recipients of these cheers?” Farrukh asks.

Farrukh says that in addition to pivoting the Olympic platform, this initiative builds on General Mills’ existing commitment to food banks: through the General Mills Foundation, it tackles food insecurity through strategic initiatives, grants, food donations and knowledge sharing.

Cossette creative director Jacob Greer says his team – which developed the campaign in two weeks – had seen a lot of stock and montage work since production was limited, , but trying to look different , was only part of the reason for going with animation.

“The rhyming aspect of the script made animation the best approach for the story,” Greer says. “Plus, the happy, positive nature of animation makes you smile. And if we can make people smile right now, then that’s a very good thing.”

Veritas Communications is leading media relations, influencer relations and Olympic athlete partnerships. “Murray the Brave” is airing on TV nationally, on digital platforms and social channels including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest in English and French.

From a business perspective, General Mills was in good shape heading into the pandemic; according to its Q3 results, Canadian retail sales were up 5% year-over-year, even as sales in the U.S. dipped. This week, on the General Mills blog, Jeanine Bassett, VP of global consumer insights at General Mills, says the company  is seeing “strong gains in cereal” as consumers overwhelmingly shift to having meals inside the home that are easy to make, echoing social media, which is replete with posts about consuming cereal while in isolation. Companies that manufacturer shelf-stable items, like cereal, have seen a spike in demand: General Mills competitor Kellogg’s, for example, reported that its earnings per share rose 23% in the first quarter.