General Mills' Pssst… is a Weak Stab at Branded Community

I just signed up for General Mills’ Pssst… membership club because I was interested in seeing how a big consumer products company assimilates all that we’ve learned about online communities and applies it to a super-brand site (plus, I love Lucky Charms!). It’s still early, but this site is off to a very weak start.

Pssst… is intended to bring fans of General Mills products closer to the company by inviting them into a members-only space where they can receive inside information, get coupons and samples and share their opinions about the company’s products. This is all the stuff that I preach organizations should do with branded communities. The site is produced in collaboration with GlobalPark, a company that manages online panels.

Pssst… is good in concept but bad in execution. I would not have launched the site in its current condition:

  • The “My Profile” section contains nothing more than a mailing address. That is not a profile; it is a contact form.
  • There are six “activities” listed on the “My Home” page. Two of them link to press releases. The other two  are invitations to download JPG images of General Mills products to display on your blog. The Yoplait image is nearly 1MB in size, which is a problem for people with low-bandwidth ISP accounts. I can’t publish it at full size because it would blow up my blog template, but click on the image above to see the downloaded image in all its glory. Why would General Mills want to deliver something this unwieldy? Also, the images have no added value. There are no links to coupons, no news, no games, nothing beyond a picture of a yogurt carton. Why would I embed that in my blog?
  • The last two activities are invitations to mail coupons to friends. The landing page has 18 boxes with spaces for nine friends’ names and e-mail addresses. You can personalize the message to all the names you enter, but not to an individual recipient. By using this page, you’re basically volunteering your friends for General Mills’ direct mail list. This feature would also appear to conflict with the site’s stated privacy policy that “we do not send unsolicited commercial emails.” There is nothing in the privacy policy that speaks to what happens to friends’ e-mail addresses after they are captured for the coupon promotion.
  • Also, it appears that the only way members can get coupons is to e-mail them to themselves. This would conflict with my advice that companies treat these branded destination as “clubs.” There is nothing in this club for me.
  • Finally, a prominent banner at the bottom of the home page reads “Want to start your own blog? Click here to find out how!” It links to the Blogger home page. Why is this even here? Why would General Mills want one of the most visible links on the home page to take the visitor off-site? Wouldn’t this be a nice opportunity to give people a blog within a branded General Mills space?

There are other small annoyances. There is no navigation on the activity pages. The most visible link in the navigation bar is “cancel membership.” Most of the real estate on the pages is wasted.

In sum, Pssst… is a disappointing first effort from a company that should know better.

8 thoughts on “General Mills' Pssst… is a Weak Stab at Branded Community

  1. Wow. You’d think a company with the marketing resources of General Mills would at least build a site meeting Web 1.0 standards, even if they don’t get the social media imperatives. The other misfires–the contact forms and thinly veiled refer-a-friend functions–speak of a marketing team firmly in denial of what’s going on in marketing today.

    But I’m curious. How do you think an excellently executed General Mills site might succeed? With commodity products like toothpaste and cereal, it seems hard to imagine significant community activity focused on the product. What are the avenues that social media marketing can best support CPG kinds of businesses? Is it limited to product complaints and suggestions? Maybe online customer advisory groups for new products? I remember as a kid that a number of cereal companies had clubs and fan groups that were built around activities only tenuously tied to the product, and of course, box-tops to redeem prizes and stuff. Is that where this is likely to go in a successful scenario?

    Thanks for your insight.

  2. Regarding the huge image: it’s most likely the case that no one would ever publish it at that size. It’s offered at that size so that it can be resized to something smaller. Remember, you can’t go from small to big.

    The name is what sticks in my head: isn’t it just asking for someone to write General Mills and tell them they’re Pssst! off about this community? 😉

  3. Great post! After reading this I decided to check out the site for myself, and I have a few more comments.

    I was fascinated by some of the questions I was asked regarding my habits of referring products to others. I was asked how often I refer new products to friends, whether or not they act on it and how many people, on average, I would refer a product to after trying it. I could very obviously tell where this was leading, but then – after being asked whether or not I would be willing to test some of their products and tell people about them – I was told I could not reveal how I received the product or any information I received about the product. Umm, OK. So, they want me to pretend I bought it and then make up product information? Don’t they want me to use their key messages in order to reinforce the brand adn brag about how “you too” can get on their list and get free stuff to review? That’s word-of-mouth marketing at its core…and they’re telling me not to do it.

    Also, after going through the entire “sign up” process, I was dumped into a “thank you for registering” page with no way to get to the site – no links – no nothing. So, now that I’ve registered I can’t get to the content. It literally said “That’s it! Welcome to Pssst… We’re very glad you’ve joined.” and then left me hanging.

    Once I got my “thank you for registering” e-mail that directed me back to the site, I noticed some scrolling logos on the top right of the page that are just that – scrolling logos. They’re not hyperlinked to product information, as I would have hoped. So, if I try to click on “Cheerios” to see what they have about the product, I’m sorely disappointed.

    As for the “blog fodder” links…that’s just shameless. I’m supposed to put a photo of Progresso Soup on my blog so I can “…show the world the products I love…” Umm, no.

    You hit the nail on the head. This is a great concept with very poor execution.

  4. Not to mention the application process. I understand GM wanting this information and it’s fair to ask but while completing the application, I had no idea how much more of my time it was going to take. 1, 3, 10 more questions?

    Plus I enjoyed this tidbit from the terms of service:

    “When you do pass on news, samples or coupons relative to those products, you agree to identify yourself as a member of General Mills’ Pssst… program. “

  5. Pingback: Are you ready?

  6. You nailed it! Well done. Maybe they will learn. They get props for at least trying to get into the social media space and build a community.

  7. Pingback: 11 Rules of Compelling Content | Mastering Online Marketing and Guerrilla Marketing Coaching by Mitch Meyerson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *