Everything I needed to know about marketing, I learned from Mark Addicks, who retired as CMO of General Mills in January. Mark is one of the main reasons I went into marketing as a career, so I want to share a few of my memories as a tribute to one of marketing’s great thinkers and inspiring mentors.
When I was an HBS student in 2001, I heard Mark give a guest lecture on the power of brand purpose in Cheerios, and it inspired me to think about marketing in a whole new way. Cheerios had been stagnant, and its marketing was stuck in communicating functional benefits around heart health. It was only when they probed into the deeper emotional insight around “nurturing” and tapped the powerful moment where toddlers learn to feed themselves with Cheerios as a first finger food that they unlocked growth.
“Nurturing” started to drive everything in the Cheerios brand and inspired promotion ideas like including a children’s book in every box to promote childhood literacy. And, more recently, not to back down when there was a backlash against a multicultural family in a Cheerios ad.
In a similar way, he recently shared a case study about Fiber One and how it used to be marketed as “cereal with twigs”. But then they found a popular Weight Watchers Fiber One Brownie recipe, and realized that brand champions were making the product their own:
“It changed the purpose of Fiber One, making it a way to make dieting suck less and find a convenient way to manage your weight. Purpose can change the way you do everything in your marketing mix.”
Mark interviewed me soon after that guest lecture and I spent nearly three years at General Mills, working on Cheerios, Yoplait, and Green Giant. The Brand Champions program he created was like getting a PhD in marketing.
On a personal level, Mark helped me find my own purpose in relation to my cartoons. I first started posting my weekly marketing cartoons at General Mills as an Associate Marketing Manager working on Yoplait (with the Trix Rabbit).
Occasionally my cartoons would poke fun at big company hierarchies (my boss character was originally a caricature of Steve Demeritt, General Mill’s Vice Chairman at the time). My colleagues wondered if I would get disciplined (or even fired) for sticking my neck out. I started to wonder if I was pushing it too far.
Then I got a call from Mark Addick’s assistant saying that he wanted to set up time with me. I assumed that he was going to tell me to tone it down. But instead, when I got to his office, he told me he loved the cartoons and wanted to take me to lunch to learn more about me. He taught me not to be afraid to stick my neck out. He even went on to introduce me to a friend of his who was a professional cartoonist.
In Mark’s good-bye message to General Mills (posted on Adweek), he wrote a few words about the power of people and the power of brands that are emblematic of the inspiration he brought to General Mills and the marketing community at large:
Today is my last day at General Mills. Whew! 26 years went pretty fast…
Before I go, I want to make sure to send a note of thanks for all that you and this community of unique, talented and fun individuals, have given me. I am walking out of these hallowed halls very humble and awe-struck by the opportunities that I have had, the people I have had the fortune to work with and the brands that I have been able to touch. Oh, if these halls could speak….
Thank you for all that you have taught me, all you have given me, and all the ways you have indelibly touched and inspired me. I am forever and deeply grateful.
Take a look around you: there are wonderful people here to support you, partner with you, challenge you, and make you better at what you do. And they just might be your friends for life.
People matter. A lot. A community of great people create and achieve incredible things. Great people make all the difference in strategies, ideas, executions. And great people need your encouragement, commitment and support. Our community—and the culture that defines this community–needs to be differentially great so that we can make a difference out there where it counts. So, please never stop believing and investing in each other. Please don’t leave culture for someone else to define. Jump in with both feet. Take the opportunity in front of you to define the community and culture you want to be a part of.
After people (and of course I have to say this): Our brands matter. That is why people vote with their wallets everyday. Why investors place their funds in our stock. Why we have amazing art on our lawns. Why we have day care for the next generation…And why it is fun being here. There is NO single place in the world with so many legacy brands under one roof. Without our people and our brands, we would have nothing different to offer.
Products come and go. Brands endure.
They are a challenge to build, a challenge to steward as consumers and markets change, a challenge to evolve strategically.
Brands force us to make choices, such as who to be for, where to play, when to urgently accelerate–and when to stop and have the courage to say ‘no’.
And it is far easier to destroy a brand than to build one. Actually, frighteningly easy.
Building and growing a brand requires that we, too, continue to grow and evolve at the pace of the consumer and marketplace. And that we are accountable for stewarding each brand to a better place.
I wish you, and our brands, the very best. They are in your very talented and capable hands.
I can’t wait to see the next chapter.
I am now, simply, one of your brand champions.
Mark, congratulations on your 26 years at General Mills and thank you for impacting me and so many others!
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)