Special K’s “own it” campaign takes brand into Beloved brand status

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Let’s look at how Special K moved from an indifferent brand to a beloved brand, by empowering women.

Indifferent: Special K was stuck in a rut back in the 80s and 90s

I worked in the cereal business back at General Mills in the 1990’s and we never thought anything about Special K. It just sat there with a very small and dying share. Special K was just the one flavor of cereal.

  • Zero innovation. 
  • Just Rice Krispies crushed differently.
  • No big idea.
  • Weight loss feature. 

But the ads were focused on 110 calories and a de-motivating “pinch an inch”. Basically just a problem and a feature. Not a solution or benefit. 

Here’s a Special K ad from the 1980s and you’ll see why competitors were not very worried.

As you can see, it was  all about the brand: feature, feature, feature. So many messages jammed into one ad. This is a classic example why no one cares what you do until you care what they want. No one at Special K put themselves in the shoes of the consumer. They failed to ask “so what do I get?” or “how does this make me feel?”

It was not very empowering for women. 

In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve. They move from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved brand for life. At the Beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings and Consumers become outspoken fans.


In the 1990s, Special K was clearly an Indifferent brand. There was very little consumer opinion about the brand. Those who did buy Special K weren’t exactly the most ardent fans of the brand. Not only was the original flavor fairly bland, everything about the brand was bland. Special K needed to stand for something. It needed an idea. 

The most beloved brands build everything around a Big Idea

With such a cluttered market, consumers need everything simplified, just to engage. Consumers connect with a brand’s BIG IDEA simplifies the message. It makes it easy to explain. It transforms the brand’s SOUL into a brand REPUTATION that you can build behind. 

In too many situations I see, the story meanders and changes as it gets bigger. To ensure delivery of the brand’s Soul, line up all 5 brand magic moments underneath your Big Idea. This includes the brand promise, story, innovation, purchase moment and experience.

big idea map new 2015.001

What you want to do is create a simple brand promise that separates your brand from competitors, based on being better, different or cheaper. Use your brand story to motivate consumers to think, feel or act, while beginning to own a reputation in the mind and hearts of consumers. Make sure you have a fundamentally sound product, using innovation to stay at the forefront of trends and using technology to deliver on your brand promise. The purchase moment of truth as consumers move through the purchase cycle and use channels, messaging, processes to make the final decision. Turn the usage of your product into an experience that becomes a ritual and favorite part of their day.

A loved brand: The re-birth of Special K

Before we get to the “own it” idea, I need to acknowledge the last 15 years of great work on Special K. It has helped set up the ability to even contemplate something as big as “own it”.

Around 2000, Special K made a dramatic turn in the market. With all the diet-crazed consumers looking for new solutions, Special K had a stroke of brilliance when someone figured out that if you ate Special K twice a day for just two weeks, you could lose up to 6 pounds in 2 weeks. While all the other diet options felt daunting, this felt pretty easy to do.

The big idea for Special K was “Empowering Women to take control of their weight”. 

While Special K had spent decades dancing around the weight loss idea, now they had a Brand Promise that was benefit focused and empowering:  With Special K, just twice a day for 2 weeks, you can lose 6 pounds or better yet, drop a jean size. They stopped talking about the product and starting talking in the voice of the consumer. 

The brilliant strategy is around the usage occasion of the second meal each day. Cereal had been a category that grew +3% for years, steady only with population growth and some demographics around boomers and echo generations. But now, there was finally a reason to eat cereal twice in one day. The communication of the Brand Story become about empowering women to take control using the Two Week Challenge. With a Brand Idea bigger than just a cereal, Special K’s innovation rivaled that of Apple. It started with the launch of Berry Special K that thrust the brand into a good tasting cereal, and has since added bars, shakes and water.

Most recently, they’ve now launched potato chips (only 80 calories for 20 chips) and a Breakfast Sandwich option.  it just goes to show you that it’s not about ‘out of the box’ ideas, but rather how you define the box.  All these product launches are aligned to the idea of empowering women to maintain their weight. The diversified line up beyond cereal helps off-set any sales softness on cereal. And rounding out the Brand Experience is to take the challenge on-line, gives women a community of encouragement to help achieve their personal weight loss goals. Special K has also launched App for smart phones to help monitor weight goals.


A beloved brand: Evolving the Special K brand around a Big idea

Special K has continue to build their Big Idea to where it’s about “inspiring and empowering women to take control and main their healthy body”. For the last 15 years, it’s been all about empowering and control, but the latest work also inspires and challenges women to maintain their healthy body, no matter the “so-called” flaw.

special k idea map.001

The new “own it” idea shifts the brand story from “losing weight” to loving the body you have and making the most of it. We all have flaws, but this beautiful work gets on the side of consumers. It has a bit of Dove and “love who you are” messaging. It’s mixed with a bit Nike and “no excuses” that challenges the consumer to take charge. I love it. 


In the words of Special K: “97% of women have an ‘I hate my body’ moment. Every. Single. Day. We believe that 100% of women have the power to change something more important than the size of their butts. We can change our perspective.”

Special K have done some great print ads in support of the campaign. These bring to life the reality of your body. The y offer the challenge of what you’re willing to do about it.


Some great lessons for other brands.

  • Patiently build your brand. It would have been impossible to move from the 1990s “reduced calorie” brand to the “own it” brand. The middle 15 years transformed the Special K brand to where they could command the power to do this type of work.
  • Be very focused. Speak to a specific target (women 25-45). Speak in their voice will make you a more powerfully connected brand.
  • Be consumer obsessed.  Everything starts and ends with the consumer in mind. Consumers don’t care what you do until you care what they want.  Be benefit focused.
  • Build around a brand idea. It is not out of the box thinking, it’s just re-defining the box to be a bigger idea.

 I hope “own it” inspires and challenges you to find the path to making your brand more loved

Below is a presentation of a workshop that we run on “Creating a beloved brand”:


To learn more about this type of thinking, you should explore my new book, Beloved Brands.

With Beloved Brands, you will learn everything you need to know so you can build a brand that your consumers will love.

You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution and analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

Beloved Brands book

To order the e-book version or the paperback version from Amazon, click on this link: https://lnkd.in/eF-mYPe

If you use Rakuten Kobo, you can find Beloved Brands in over 30 markets using this link: https://lnkd.in/g7SzEh4

And if you are in India, you can use this link to order: https://lnkd.in/gDA5Aiw

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

We think the best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique playbook tools are the backbone of our workshops. We bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a brand idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources.

Our brand playbook methodology will challenge you to unlock future growth for your brand

  1. Our deep-dive assessment process will give you the knowledge of the issues facing your brand, so you can build a smart plan to unleash future growth.
  2. Find a winning brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives you a competitive advantage to drive future growth.
  3. Create a brand idea to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, while inspiring and focusing your team to deliver greatness on the brand’s behalf.
  4. Build a brand plan to help you make smart focused decisions, so you can organize, steer, and inspire your team towards higher growth.
  5. Advise on advertising, to find creative that drives branded breakthrough and use a motivating messaging to set up long-term brand growth.
  6. Our brand training program will make your brand leaders smarter, so you have added confidence in their performance to drive brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or call me at 416 885 3911

You have my personal promise to help you solve your brand building challenges. I will give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

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