General Mills' latest advertising campaign aims to raise children's awareness of the importance of breakfast. However, although the company is hoping to be seen as a champion of children's health, it will only be rewarded for its efforts if promoting the need for breakfast is prioritized above selling sugary cereals.

Citing numerous studies demonstrating the importance of breakfast for children's success in the classroom, General Mills [GIS] has launched the food industry's largest-ever non-branded campaign targeting children. The TV ad campaign communicates the benefits of breakfast to children and is supported by messaging on cereal boxes, including a new 'fitness squad', with cereal icons such as the Trix bunny and the Lucky Charms leprechaun, as well as a standalone website with similar content.

General Mills' strategy follows recent criticism of heavy marketing to kids and the food industry's role in rising US obesity. The firm has chosen a contrasting approach to many of its competitors, which have simply opted to limit their advertising to children. Kraft Foods, for example, decided to phase out some of its child-centred ads for sugary cereal products this year.

Although the Children's Advertising Review Unit commended General Mills for its proactive effort, the campaign has its critics. Some will be quick to point out that the ten second, supposedly non-branded, positive-message ads follow 20-second versions of General Mills advertising for cereal brands such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, and other pre-sweetened products with questionable health value.

Among nutritionists, the debate lies in whether sugar-laden breakfast cereals are better than no breakfast at all. By reinforcing the idea that breakfast is a crucial element of the daily routine, the campaign could have a positive impact on the increasing number of missed breakfasts in the US, which Datamonitor forecasts will to grow by 11.5% over the next five years. But the demand for healthier products will not be sated.

Last year, General Mills started making all of its cereals with whole grain and introduced reduced-sugar versions of many popular kids' varieties using the sweetener Splenda. Now it is leading the industry with the non-branded ads. The company is taking a calculated risk by pairing non-branded ads with ads for sugar-laden cereals, but if General Mills can successfully relay the message about the importance of breakfast as an occasion, this campaign might yet be hailed a success. 

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