Why sweet Cheerios went sour on YouTube

ClickZ has recently published a post about Cheerios and its branded content on YouTube that I'd like to comment on. To make a long story short, Cheerios (a brand of cereal produced by General Mills) has uploaded several videos on its YouTube channel, and they resulted in a number of negative comments.

The videos don't actually make any references to the brand. They feature a tennis player who's healthy and full of energy (because she eats Cheerios, but this we can only guess) and a woman who likes to be healthy, enjoys watering plans and being outside (all thanks to Cheerios, I suppose!).

The videos resulted in a number of negative comments, and, even worse, an article on ClickZ (and yes, this blog post as well). Ouch! Even though Cheerios has only 31 subscribers on its YouTube channel, this is not very cheerful news for the brand.

What are some of the implications of this for Funky Brands?

  • Don't jump into social media just because everybody does it

It's very fashionable to be all over social media, whether it has anything to do with your overall brand strategy or not. I spoke about this at several events, and you can learn more about it in my post Is your brand ready to go online?

The bottom line is, social media is a very advanced and very sensitive media outlet to grasp and master, and you simply can't take it for granted. The problem is, many brands that want to explore social media go talk to social media, new media, or digital agencies or consultants, who, of course, will ensure the brand's presence throughout the web.

I'd suggest a totally different approach. First, figure out your brand strategy basics, and only then implement them through social media. Believe me, thinking and implementing works much better than just implementing!

Cheerios, for example, would have needed to do much better home work regarding its positioning before producing branded content and putting it online. The connection between their product and the fact that it prevents heart disease seems rather weak.  Even if we assume that Cheerios has some nutritional value that benefits health, this brand entry point is rather weak and may not be immediately understood by consumers. Hence all those sarcastic comments on YouTube mocking the connection between Cheerios and health.  This suggests to me that Cheerios would benefit from some smart repositioning to remain authentic and strike a cord with its real fans.

  • When not too sure about your overall brand strategy, use social media to tweak and explore it

At first, this tip might seem somewhat contradictory to the one above. However, the similarity is that you absolutely have to have a solid brand strategy in place, before you jump into social media.  However, often you will have assumptions that would need to be tested, and this is especially true for small companies that don't have lots of cash to spare on traditional market research. Then by using the social media slowly and carefully, they can get very good insights into their consumers and market trends. These insights can be then used to improve and tweak the existing brand strategy.

  • Think twice about branded content

Let me be clear: I am not a big fan of branded content in general.  Branded content is any kind of entertainment content sponsored by brands. Unlike ads which have explicit mentions of the advertiser, branded content usually has little or no mention of the sponsor at all. As a consumer, I'm more likely to watch an ad and know who's behind it rather than be fooled and even manipulated by carefully hidden messages. The problem is, people don't like ads, period. And if they discover that they are watching an ad, whereas they first thought it was simply an entertaining video, they won't be happy.  So, don't monopolize their time and pretend you are not there.

  • Don't forget that the power of social media is NOT all about numbers

The YouTube channel of Cheerios has only 31 subscribers, and yet look at all the fuss.  I feel that the concept of "numbers" in social media is becoming more and more blurry.  On Twitter, everybody seemed to be obsessed by the number of followers (the more, the better) until Klout concluded that one's influence does not solely depend on the number of followers. On Facebook, most people will keep your brand as a friend, to keep the numbers high and appear social, whilst hiding it to keep annoying updates at bay. Don't be seduced by high numbers, and if the numbers are low, don't take this as a guarantee that your brand is safe from bad publicity.