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Cheerios is reprising a famous holiday commercial from 1999 to fit the modern social media era and strike a nostalgic, emotional chord during a season that is normally festive but this year will see countless families celebrate apart from one another. More than 20 years after its debut, the sentimental video has reemerged via TikTok thanks to a viral video by influencer Cori Spruiell.
The original spot, developed with agency Saatchi & Saatchi, depicted a grandmother visiting family for the holidays. While feeding her grandchild Cheerios, she used cereal bits as props to map out where she and their relatives lived in relation to the baby. "You know how much grandma wanted to be here for your first Christmas," began the ad, which went on to re-run around the holidays in the ensuing years and appeared on an electronic billboard in Times Square in 2004. The 30-second spot closed with, "No matter where Grandma lives, we'll always be together for Christmas." Despite the ad's simple concept, it tugged at heartstrings enough to remain on many consumers' minds for two decades.
Cheerios today released a refreshed version of the iconic commercial, starring the original grandmother and baby, who is now grown. While its themes of family and togetherness remain, the new spot differs in that it arrives amid a unique season where families and friends are discouraged from gathering in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Family togetherness is at the heart of this 20-year-old, iconic Cheerios commercial and that's something that isn't going to be physically possible for many this holiday season," said Kathy Dixon, senior brand experience manager for Cheerios. "Many of our fans remember the grandma character and the baby from the original spot, so what better time than now to refresh the commercial, empathize with our audiences and capture today's reality."
The updated ad's first seconds show a handmade ornament decorated with the words "1st Christmas with Grandma," in reference to the 1999 spot. A young woman then opens the front door to find a Cheerios box and note telling her to call her grandmother. In their video conversation, the grandmother again mentions how they will "always be together for Christmas" and uses cereal pieces to discuss relatives — another nod to the original ad. The spot closes with a voiceover: "Cheers to keeping traditions alive, wherever you are."
Cheerios will air the spot on YouTube and TikTok throughout the holidays, and will work with a group of TikTok influencers to help their followers spark connections during a stressful season, according to details the brand emailed to Marketing Dive.
How it materialized
It's not every day a fan's commercial pitch actually comes to life. The ad reprisal came to fruition through a unique creative process, and one that illustrates social media creators' swelling sway in the marketing space. With their typically large online followings, creators can drum up buzz among audiences and snag attention from major marketers like General Mills.
Spruiell, who has more than 200,000 followers on TikTok, posted a video on Nov. 20 asking General Mills to refashion the commercial with a 2020 twist, proposing details for the plot and suggesting the food marketer enlist the same actors for a stronger effect. By early December, the brand had tapped Martin Williams Advertising, an Omnicom agency local to General Mills' Minneapolis hometown. Cheerios commented on Spruiell's post just days later, "This idea has us buzzing... stay tuned," and soon shared a teaser video on its own TikTok page, featuring snippets of the 1999 ad and text that alluded to a 2020 remake.
"Our team was up for the challenge after we saw all the emotional comments from people who watched and remembered the 1999 ad," Dixon said. "We wanted to make it happen for our fans — especially since many Americans will be postponing or modifying their holiday plans to connect with friends and families in order to protect the health of their loved ones this year."
The heartwarming spot is just the latest in a history of feel-good marketing by Cheerios. In August, it launched an Instagram content series with Jerry Harris of Netflix's "Cheer" to "spread positivity and inspire acts of good," per a company announcement. That partnership included a $1.3 million donation to No Kid Hungry, followed by a fresh campaign that showed people waking up happy and joyfully helping each other. Cheerios is doubling down on encouraging families with positive energy and creative, General Mills North America chief brand officer Brad Hiranaga told The Drum in August.
This emphasis on positivity appears to be a renewed focus for marketers across categories this year, with brands such as Pringles, Gap and Ferrero candy brand Kinder Joy imbuing cheer into their creative campaigns during a bleak year.
Cheerios' uplifting ad reboot arrives one day after parent company General Mills reported strong sales linked to consumers eating at home more frequently, beating analyst expectations for the second quarter. Net sales rose 7% to $4.72 billion, a pace the company said it expects to continue into the next quarter.