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Surreal vs. Kellogg’s: Cereal’s David vs. Goliath

September 2022

This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.

It’s a daunting prospect being the new kid in school. Everyone knows everyone, but nobody knows you. How do you make yourself known? Do you quietly slip in and hope a kind face will introduce you to the playground’s pecking order? Or do you walk up to the biggest, meanest kid — and punch them right in the face?

Through a series of colorfully simple billboards, new U.K. cereal brand — aptly named Surreal — chose to take the latter approach. Seizing a golden opportunity to capitalize on Kellogg’s continued health controversies, Surreal attempted to announce itself as the cool, new-age alternative.

This approach is not without risk, however. By leaning on competitors’ mental structures and established assets to draw attention to the highly publicized sugar content of Kellogg’s cereals, are Surreal carving out a ‘better for you’ point of difference within the sugar-fueled category? Or are they simply creating free publicity for competitors? We used our 3Cs methodology to find out:

  • Captivate: Be emotive; stand out and grab attention.
  • Connect: Be recognizable; synergize with expectations.
  • Compel: Be motivating; drive behavioral change.

Captivate

Living up to its disruptive mantra, Surreal’s bold decision to take aim at childhood favorite cereal mascots was a sure-fire way to stand out from the crowd. People echoed this sentiment — finding the provocative taglines and their placement atop bright pastel backgrounds highly attention-grabbing. While the digs at competitors could’ve been seen in poor taste, this wasn’t the case. Instead, the playful approach and cheeky references evoked feelings of amusement and happiness, laddering up to a highly likeable campaign.

Surreal cereal print advertising campaign - Ad Testing - Captivate

Connect

Without the luxury of time-built assets, it’s unsurprising that the bold campaign wasn’t seen to be synergistic with people’s (total lack of) expectations of the brand. However, as ‘David’s distant cousin’ in a category of Goliaths, Surreal’s first attempt at making a name for itself nonetheless went as well as one could’ve hoped. Deploying a minimalistic yet distinctive pastel color scheme effectively drew attention to the bold and humorous taglines. Along with simple packaging and imagery, Surreal was able to quickly carve out a name for itself — building a foundation of assets it could one day comprehensively own.

Surreal cereal print advertising campaign - Ad Testing - Connect

 

Compel

The bright and bold aesthetic positioned Surreal as a fun brand, with the playfully combative taglines communicating Surreal’s ‘healthy yet tasty’ proposition (rather than simply announcing itself as a new competitor without any substance to back it up). As a result, the minimalistic approach successfully conveyed the brand’s intended messaging while making a name for itself as a ‘better for you’ alternative.

Surreal cereal print advertising campaign - Ad Testing - Compel

 

What are the learnings for marketers?

The prospect of a new category entrant taking on a behemoth like Kellogg’s is for all intents and purposes an insurmountable task. How do you disrupt entrenched buying patterns, honed through years of careful conditioning? How do you provide a reason-to-believe that genuinely convinces people your offering is better than established competitors?

Surreal offers a glimpse into the path startups can take to make this possible.

Some might’ve questioned the brand’s decision to prioritize the assets of others over developing its own ‘smiley face’ character as a central figure. However, Surreal made the calculated decision to first focus on building mental availability. Although this could be misconstrued as relating to awareness only (something which this audacious campaign also exhibits strong potential to do), it goes beyond this:

  • While taking pot shots at competitors won’t work for everyone, the approach clearly served its purpose — building clear memory structures around Surreal’s health credentials (and at the same time drawing attention to competitors’ shortcomings).
  • Importantly, this was brought to life in a distinctive and playful way which, despite the focus on competitors’ assets, meaningfully linked back to Surreal. With the bold logo and pastel-colored packaging placed front and center, the approach was enough of a departure to carve out a unique space for the brand.

By delivering strongly in these areas, the campaign provides a great foundation to build upon. From here, consistent reinforcement of ‘fun’ and ‘healthy’ associations will be pivotal, as will the focus on developing ownable assets (rather than perpetually relying on those of others).

Surreal cereal print advertising campaign - Ad Testing - Cubery Rating

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