It started the way most marketing mistakes start, by misinterpreting data.

Kelloggs had nearly 30% of the cereal market but they wanted more profit.

So they raised their prices by 28% over 4 years, the large variety pack for instance had gone from $29.96 to $38.

Inflation was to blame they said but Rakeen Mabud, MD of Groundwork Collaborative, says corporate profits are behind half of inflation.

In other words, big brands using inflation as a cover to raise profits further, or ‘Greedflation’ as it’s become known.

Kelloggs spotted an opportunity in research data that said 25% of their customers also ate cereal at times other than just breakfast.

What happened next was dumb move number one.

Kelloggs should have run a campaign suggesting people try cereal at different times of the day, but they didn’t do that.

They ran a campaign suggesting families eat cereal INSTEAD of dinner:

(We open on Mum, Dad, and two children at the table, Tony the Tiger pops his head round the door.)

Tony: “When I say cereal, you say dinner…..Cereal”

Kids: “Dinner”

Tony: “Cereal”

Kids: “Dinner”

Chicken (in kitchen): “Chicken”

Mum: “You can have the night off, chicken.”

Chicken: “I’ll just go marinate”

VO: “Give chicken the night off”

Tony: “Cereal”

Kids: “Dinner”

Tony: “Cereal”

Kids” “Dinner”

So Kelloggs tried to increase sales by having families replace dinner with cereal.

In the middle of an inflation crisis, while families are struggling to afford food and Kelloggs are putting prices up, this may seem tone-deaf.

But what they did next was dumb move number two, which was much worse.

Kellogg’s CEO, Gary Pilnick, who earns $5 million a year, went on TV to say that the idea of replacing dinner with cereal was actually Kellogg’s helpful advice for poor families.

If they were struggling to feed their children, they could replace the family dinner with a bowl of cereal for less than a dollar.

He said it was Kellogg’s suggestion to help poor families on low incomes.

Obviously, this infuriated a lot of people.

Robert Reich, founder of Inequality Media, said “With a $5 million salary, do you think this CEO is feeding his kids cereal for dinner?”

Kellogg memes appeared everywhere the headline: “LET THEM EAT CEREAL”.

A huge TikTok campaign exploded, urging people to boycott Kellogg’s products and to buy own-label instead.

In supermarkets all over America, there are large displays of Kellogg’s products, normally $10 now reduced to $3.99, and still unsold.

This is the stupidity of marketing people who think the whole world is like them.

Poor people probably aren’t white-collar workers who sit at desks all day.

Poor people are often blue-collar workers who do hard, manual labour.

At the end of the day, a bowl of cereal is not what they need.

And for children, cereal is high in sugar, low in protein, and low in nutrition – not a meal.

As Senator Welch of Vermont said “They don’t need to eat cereal for dinner, they need corporations to stop ripping them off.”

In his bio, Kellogg’s CEO, Gary Pilnick, describes himself as: Collaborator and key architect of transformative growth strategies that deliver shareholder value.”

Well thanks to him, Kellogg’s share price is currently going down, not sure that’s what he meant by ‘transformative growth strategies that deliver shareholder value’.

But this is certainly an example of how marketing can reposition the concept of ‘brand’.

From a reassurance of quality to the symbol for corporate greed.