What Was General Mills Smoking to OK Cheech and Chong Magic Brownie Campaign?

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The latest online marketing campaign by General Mills takes the idea of medical marijuana to a whole new level. The company — yes, that General Mills, maker of mostly mundane but helpful family-friendly products ranging from Cheerios to Hamburger Helper — has gone out on a marketing limb that seems drug-induced.

The company has launched a series of web videos in a promotion featuring Cheech and Chong touting General Mills’ new FiberOne 90 Calorie Brownies. And General Mills leaves nothing to allusion or wink-wink suggestions in selecting the counter-cultural champions of cannabis haze as the focus of the effort.

The videos are positioned as a trailer and clips from what is billed as the comedy duo’s first road epic in 28 years, “Cheech & Chong’s Magic Brownie Adventure.” On their way to deliver a truckful of the “magic brownies” to a desert festival, they indulge in a treat that is chock full of a different kind of organic substance than they’re used to: fiber.[more]

“Now that you’re getting older, you need a new kind of magic from your brownie,” the tagline says. In one clip, Tommy Chong urges viewers, “Get high on fiber.” FiberOne’s Facebook page introduced the webisodes with the comment, “It’s been 28 years. And they’re back. In the greatest magic brownie epic in the history of the world.”

Oh, to have been a fly on that wall at that pitch meeting. What were General Mills marketers (and agency, Publicis) thinking when this viral promotion moved from sideline conference-room chatter to the thing in the middle of the table, and then to production, and then to actual placement on the brand’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and a campaign microsite earlier this month?

It’s one thing for marketers to continually lure nostalgic boomers with images from the halcyon Sixties, right up to and including anti-Vietnam War marches and Woodstock. But they’ve always stopped the view at a few hundred feet away. With this campaign, a surprising General Mills is blowing right through any remnant of social convention that condemns marijuana smoking, and creating just another viral hook out of it. Amazing.

And, as one Facebook poster suggested, maybe the campaign featuring the aging potheads means that General Mills doesn’t think FiberOne is for kids or families.

“It was an effort to reach boomers online in a fun and humorous way, leveraging the nostalgia from the 60s and 70s in tying that to the benefits of fiber,” Kerry DeLaney, associate marketing manager for FiberOne, was quoted in Ad Age. “As people are getting older the magic in the brownies of yesterday have transformed into something more relevant today.”

Of course, indulging in marijuana usage is as “relevant” today as it was to the Sixties and Seventies, even if (for some boomers) it’s medical marijuana they’re using. But that doesn’t mean General Mills had to inhale — or send its marketing budget (and credibility?) up in smoke.

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