3 branding lessons from Lucky Charms’ unicorn and others

General Mills made headlines and got people talking online about a new marshmallow shape in one of its cereals, while McDonald’s is focusing on nutrition and KFC is handling a food shortage.

If the fervor over Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino was any indication, people love these mythical creatures.

General Mills is capitalizing on that love by adding the fictional animal in sugar form—coming soon to boxes of Lucky Charms everywhere.

USA Today reported:

For the first time in 10 years, cereal maker General Mills will introduce a new marshmallow shape to its popular cereal. The unicorn is white with blue and purple colors for its horn and mane.

The unicorn will join seven other marshmallow shapes: hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers, blue moons, rainbows, red balloons. The hourglass will be phased out to make room for the unicorn.

Aside from adding “unicorns” to the list of things that consumers absolutely love (the list also includes “kittens” and “babies”), brand managers can glean a few takeaways from the recent branding move.

Consider these branding lessons, courtesy of General Mills, McDonald’s and KFC:

1. General Mills: Make it fun.

Brand managers can add life to an older product or service by changing one small element.

For example, you might recall the Lucky Charms commercials from the ’80s:

via GIPHY

Swapping one marshmallow shape for another doesn’t seem like a big deal, but on Tuesday, General Mills’ news graced headlines and caused social media buzz. However, the company didn’t achieve this with a press release and corporate jargon.

Here’s an excerpt from General Mills’ press release about the cereal’s new shape:

“Our goal is to not only create a cereal that families and cereal fans will love and enjoy, but to inspire magical possibilities and help spark imagination and fun no matter what the age,” said Josh DeWitt, marketing manager of Lucky Charms. “That’s why, after 10 years, we decided to introduce a new charm with the help of the keepers of magic themselves – kids. They spoke, and after hearing their love for the magical unicorn, we listened.”

… In addition to great texture and delicious taste, Lucky Charms is made with whole grain as the first ingredient, fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals, and is a good source of calcium. Cereal-lovers can now enjoy a new magical mix of beloved, colorful Lucky Charms marshmallows with crunchy, whole grain oats. The new unicorn charms have already begun to appear in boxes of Original and Chocolate Lucky Charms cereals and will be available more widely at major grocery retailers and big box stores in March.

DeWitt’s quote didn’t seem to excite journalists or shake up consumers—but Lucky Charm’s tweet did.

Though some Twitter users begged for the hourglass marshmallow to be spared, most responded to the announcement with excitement:

As a PR pro, you’ll probably be tasked with crafting a press release or official statement, but don’t forget to make your news fun and relatable. That’s how you can expand your reach, pump up media coverage and increase online engagement.

2. McDonald’s: Be responsible.

McDonald’s recently made waves when it announced that its happy meals were slimming down.

Detroit Free Press reported:

By this June, McDonald’s said 100% of the Happy Meal menu offerings will be 600 calories or less and be compliant with new criteria for less added sugar and saturated fat. More than 75% of the meals will meet McDonald’s new sodium guidelines.
Here are some key changes:

· The cheeseburger will be available by request only.

· Small French fries within the 6-piece Chicken McNugget meal will be replaced by a kids-sized fries. McDonald’s said decreasing the French fry size reduced calories and sodium by half.

· McDonald’s is reformulating the chocolate milk to reduce the amount of added sugar. During this time, chocolate milk will be available only by request.

· Bottled water will be added as a Happy Meal choice later this year.

Forbes contributor Micheline Maynard wrote that the “Happy Meal is now unhappy”—and she wasn’t the only writer to make such a joke.

However, the fast-food chain’s decision is just the latest in a series of moves for food brands to appeal to health-conscious consumers. For example, both Walmart and McDonald’s have pledged to sell or use cage-free eggs. Chipotle is also testing quinoa on its menu in New York City.

CNN Money reported:

Ernest Baskin, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, argued McDonald’s made the changes for two main reasons: improving its image among parents and reducing costs on food.

“Kids do crave McDonald’s, but parents might not always feel good about bringing them there,” he said. “By positioning their meals as healthier, McDonald’s is likely attempting to make the decision easier for the parents.”

McDonald’s is going beyond its Happy Meal to cater to healthier lifestyles, too.

In a press release, the company listed additional objectives aimed at making its offerings more attractive to consumers—especially parents. Two of those read as follows:

3. Be Transparent with Happy Meal Nutrition Information

The company has made a continuous effort to meet consumers’ desire for easy access to nutrition information for menu items it serves with a goal of ensuring that nutrition information for Happy Meals is available and accessible through all McDonald’s owned websites and mobile apps used for ordering where they exist.

4. Market Responsibly

Under the new goals, all Happy Meal bundles advertised to children will meet McDonald’s new global nutrition criteria, and will continue to meet any existing local/regional advertising pledges with respect to marketing to children.

You don’t have to go all out to appeal to consumers’ sense of responsibility and address their concerns, either.

“These goals build on the commitments McDonald’s has made to improve options for kids,” NPR reported. “And, in many cases, these goals represent small tweaks.”

If you’re looking to give your organization a branding boost, consider highlighting a corporate social responsibility project or making a change to your product or service that fits with a growing societal focus, such as nutrition or sustainability.

3. KFC: Prioritize your needs.

Though most brand managers—along with executives and clients—would say that increased brand recognition is a top goal, staving off a potential PR crisis is also essential to your brand’s health.

KFC—the fast-food chain which has been parading a bevy of faces for its Colonel Sanders—learned this lesson recently when an issue with its supplier in the United Kingdom caused roughly half of its stores in the country to close due to a chicken shortage.

HuffPost reported:

As of late Tuesday morning, 646 of the fast-food chain’s restaurants remained closed after its delivery contractor failed to make good on its orders, the BBC reported.

“The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants,” KFC said on Twitter. “We’ve brought a new delivery partner onboard, but they’ve had a couple of teething problems ― getting fresh chicken out to 900 restaurants across the country is pretty complex!”

The New York Times reported:

Chicken shops abound in Britain, the largest European market for fast-food chicken according to Euromonitor International. It is the fifth-biggest market for KFC, representing about 6 percent of its roughly $24.5 billion in global sales last year. British chicken shops range from high-end rotisseries to dozens of KFC-inspired imitators covering enough American states that one data scientist put together a map of them.

Though funny commercials and marketing stunts might work to increase chatter about your brand, how you handle a PR crisis will definitely get people talking. Prioritize these communications essentials by having a crisis plan in place—and remembering your brand when you respond to negative situations.

For KFC, it stayed with its brand voice when keeping consumers updated about the problem. Here’s the statement the company shared in its newsroom about the incident:

The fast-food chain’s social media team in United Kingdom and Ireland tweeted out the statement, too:

What branding lessons have you seen in recent headlines and marketing efforts, PR Daily readers?

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