General Mills’ Cheerios partnered with Walmart last spring to run a cause campaign benefitting military families and veterans within the retailer’s communities by raising funds for nonprofit Operation Homefront.
The “Brighten the Lives of Vets” campaign was intended to create “an opportunity for Walmart consumers to emotionally connect with the goodness of Cheerios beyond the cereal bowl.” The effort provided a simple solution to give back by purchasing Cheerios products at the retailer, says Kelli Lott, General Mills’ shopper marketing senior planner.
From May 7-28, 2020 – a time period that included both the observance of Armed Forces Day (May 18) and Memorial Day (May 25) – shoppers at Walmart were driven to purchase a variety of SKUs in custom packaging to trigger up to $250,000 in total donations. The packaging stood out on Walmart shelves, backed by incremental display support, through July 17.
“Our Walmart merchandising team was very supportive of this campaign, placing the six participating Cheerios products on the seasonal aisle at Walmart,” Lott says. The effort included classic Cheerios as well as honey nut, multi-grain, frosted, apple cinnamon and oat crunch cinnamon varieties, with the front of pack prominently depicting the effort’s logo and touting a donation of $1 with each purchase.
“The back of pack featured a gold-foil ribbon that could be cut out and displayed in consumer homes to show support for returning veterans, and clearly stated the call to action,” Lott says. It also provided detailed instructions on how to submit in-pack codes to a promotional website (CheeriosGives.com) through Nov. 1 to trigger each donation.
Offering add-to-cart functionality, the site let participants designate a preference about how funding should be allocated in their communities. It also hosted a top-of-page promotional video as well as individual videos of veterans sharing stories about how Operation Homefront helped them through the struggles they faced while transitioning to civilian lives. A Walmart.com promotional showcase and display ads supported.
“We activated across the consumer journey with a strong call to action for buying the specially marked ‘Brighten the Lives of Vets’ custom packaging. Our media followed this nonlinear shopper experience, landing either on a specially created Walmart OPD [Online, Pickup & Delivery] shelf page or our microsite with add-to-cart functionality,” Lott says.
Specific digital support included user engagement marketing with store locator and add-to-cart functionality, off-site media utilizing high-impact and native banners, social platform placements with in-stream video and in-feed static messaging, in-app mobile banners leveraging geo-location, and digital audio with static banners, Lott says.
“We had intended for this to be a community-building campaign activated within Walmart stores and parking lots. However, due to COVID-19, experiential plans were shifted to make a strong digital campaign,” she adds. “Our cause-related offer leveraged throughout the campaign was easily transitioned thanks to our simple steps for shoppers.”
The campaign succeeded because its strategy took into account seasonal and emotional relevance while also considering the shopper mindset during the promotional timeframe, and was built on the partners’ foundational, long-shared value of supporting military families, Lott said.
The effort has historical precedence, as several years ago General Mills was one of a few brands participating in a Walmart-led “Saluting Heroes Together” cause marketing campaign that also took place in May.
The retailer itself has a long history of supporting veterans and military families, investing more than $40 million in the cause since 2011. In 2020, Walmart reached the goal it had set in 2013 to hire 250,000 new veteran employees as part of a “Veterans Welcome Home Commitment” guaranteeing a job offer to any eligible, honorably discharged U.S. veteran. In 2018, Walmart also introduced a “Military Spouses Career Connection” program offering any military spouse hiring preference.
Walmart plans to continue to offer veterans debt-free education and community support in 2021, while encouraging entrepreneurship, increasing health care access and launching a “Find-a-Future” platform to guide military-related prospects on how to build a road map to achieve their goals.