Who knows about Post?

No one I’ve ever spoken to knows about Post.  They are a packaged foods business which started in 1895, and at the turn of the century they were the biggest business of their kind in North America.  Eleven years after their launch, along came a more familiar brand: Kellogg’s.

There is a reason we know Kellogg’s and yet are oblivious to the once omnipresent juggernaut Post.  That reason is advertising, and the $1 billion that Kellogg’s spend every year.

Several recessions ago back in 1929 during the original Great Depression, Post followed the same path as many other consumer goods businesses and stopped advertising.  It seemed logical to them at the time – less revenue means less money to advertise with.

Like the salmon of the advertising world, Kellogg’s swam against the current.  Their decision was to double down on publicity.  The reluctance for businesses to advertise and an uncertain economy meant that advertising costs dropped.  Kellogg’s could double their ad spend in print and out of home marketing whilst still moving in to something completely new and exciting; radio advertising.

By 1933 Kellogg’s had seen profits rise 30%.  Not bad work for a recession.

But it wasn’t until the recession ended that the true benefit of the advertising was felt.  The chasm between Post and Kellogg’s widened – only this time Kellogg’s was on the winning side.

“The trouble is they taste too good.”  Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut strapline from the 1980s which was recently revived.

Building a brand isn’t like turning on a tap.  You don’t see the full potential of your brand instantly.  Building a brand is more like owning a glacier.  The amount of water in a glacier is far greater than any tap, but it has stored potential that you will see trickle through over time.

In the 1950’s when the television became commonplace in most homes, Kellogg’s started to market through this too.  Today nearly 60p from every advertising £1 goes into television.  In 1956 Kellogg’s launched Special K – to date one of their most advertised brands.
A time-line of the television
The problem with television is that it doesn’t give you the option to specifically target your audience.  You can make generalisations over what type of demographic watch what shows or channels.  For example the adverts on a sports channel would be substantially different from those on MTV and different again from a terrestrial channel and so on.
Television ad spend
But Kellogg’s have spent a lot developing a brand that is targeted at a very specific segment of the population.  Not all 7 billion people on earth would have Special K for breakfast.  Their target audience looks a lot like this:

Target Audience of Special K

In the centre of the circle is Special K’s absolute ideal consumer.  As you move outwards the audience becomes broader and broader until outside of that circle you have everyone.

Hitting just that inner circle is close to impossible with television, radio and print advertising.  Social media, however, makes it much easier.  With social media you can build awareness of your brand with people in the bull’s-eye, the people you have specifically built your brand for.

The volume of information we offer up on places like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Gmail and LinkedIn mean that we are likely to be served targeted and relevant content.  The question marketers ask is which platform provides the right context for your advert.  Where are your target audience most likely to see it, and where are they most likely to interact with it?

Advertising today isn’t the same as it was in 1930s.  Today we have more information, more choice and over 70 years of advertising experience which enables us to make our decisions.

Taking all of this into account, I’m still surprised to see so many Post-esque companies.   Sadly for those companies, we won’t remember them for much longer.


A special thank you to Marlene – my colleague, an expert in employer branding – who initially introduced me to this story.