Why General Mills is spending more of its digital budget on influencers

General Mills is spending up to a third of the digital budget for some of its brands on influencer marketing.

A recent campaign for the CPG advertiser’s vegan and fruit snack Lärabar cost £700,000 ($905,000) to promote online in the U.K., and around £230,000 ($298,000) of it went to influencers. Speaking at an Oystercatchers event in London on May 14, Arjoon Bose, head of marketing for Europe at General Mills, said the decision to spend more on influencers came from the need to show his bosses how effective influencers are compared to other forms of marketing.

“We’ve dedicated more spend toward influencer marketing. It’s about a third of our digital spend right now,” said Bose at the event. “It’s a license to go and figure things out because we haven’t got all the answers, but equally it’s something that we can bring back to the business with clear recommendations. We’re on a journey.”

That journey has already seen the advertiser start to take more control over how it works with influencers. Previously, an agency would have brokered the deal and managed the relationship with influencer Natalie Glaze, one of those who promoted Lärabar, whereas General Mills took the lead for the latest campaign. “We want to own that relationship, which is why we work with Natalie,” said Bose. More advertisers are building out their own in-house influencer marketing teams in an attempt to nurture long-term relationships with influencers.

Working with influencers directly should, in theory, make it easier for advertisers to understand how they perform. More than a quarter of advertisers believe measurement is their biggest obstacle when it comes to paying influencers, according to Digiday Research. It’s hard to attribute breakfast cereal sales and footfall in a supermarket off the back of an influencer marketing campaign, but understanding a digital footprint, brand uplift and engagement is more realistic. Importantly, this then needs to be incorporated into the wider reporting picture.

“There’s going to be more reliance on data when it comes to influencer marketing,” said Bose. “A lot of us are seeking out data metrics for more transparency and the need for ROI.”

His faith in influencers is a reflection of how important their younger, more impressionable fans are to the future of General Mills. Smaller, healthier food brands that were once considered niche are going mainstream thanks partly to how younger people are changing the way they eat. That taste for natural, organic brands was worth $1.06 billion to the business last year. Influencers are a way to help grow that segment faster in a CPG industry that has relied on selling mass-marketed, mass-processed foods, said Bose.

Working with influencers isn’t without its challenges, however, given the market is still getting to grips with tougher regulations amid growing cynicism from people in the wake of scandals like the Fyre Festival and the proliferation of fraud. According to a Universal McCann study of 56,398 internet users, only 4% trust influencers — even governments were seen as more trustworthy, per the study.

“The move toward longer-term partnerships will make measurement easier, as brands will be able to begin optimizing their briefs and content based on the performance of their influencer partners,” said James Silverstone, influencer marketing manager at We Are Social.

Advertisers are starting to take influencers seriously. Rather than treat them as just another way to sell directly to people with the same tried-and-tested messages, CPG advertisers like General Mills and Kellogg’s are starting to think more carefully about how those influencers can build advocacy over time. It’s why General Mills is more focused on micro-influencers over celebrities. And it’s why Kellogg’s is taking the time to try and understand the long-term impact of its work with influencers.


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