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Expert Q & A

How Magic Spoon Competes with Big Cereal

September 6, 2022
Mae Rice

Cereal has been a sleepy category for years. Enter: Magic Spoon, a DTC brand that disrupted cereal as we know it, and grew 100%+ last year. Here's how they did it.

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In 2019, Magic Spoon was an underdog.

The freshly-launched DTC cereal company was up against legacy, multi-billion dollar conglomerates like General Mills and Kellogg’s.

Worst part? The cereal market wasn’t exactly booming. It was growing less than 5% per year, if not outright “declining.” 

So how did Magic Spoon wade into this mess and grow triple digits in the past year? 

This week we asked their head of growth, Yoon-Ji Nam.

Cereal was ripe for disruption

“When you walk through the cereal aisle,” Nam told MarketerHire, “it looks exactly the way it looked 20 years ago.”

Cereal advertising, too, has hit the doldrums. “In the last ten years, there has been exactly one good cereal commercial,” John Oliver randomly opined recently.

What was wrong? Nam noted three main issues the industry was facing. 

Big Cereal’s latest launches hadn’t resonated. 

It’s not that General Mills doesn’t innovate. But modern consumers care a lot about the ingredients they’re putting in their body, Nam said. Not so much about... Dulce de Leche Toast Crunch. (Not made up!)

Viewership of a major Big Cereal channel, linear TV, was down. 

Cereal and TV ads used to go hand in hand, but linear TV ratings have been sliding for years. That means even the splashiest brand campaigns can’t make the splash they used to. 

Exhibit A: We’d never seen the one ad John Oliver liked in the 2010s — a Frosted Flakes commercial featuring Shaq. 

There were only two types of cereal.

The cereal aisle was split between fun, tasty and sugary (Lucky Charms and its leprechaun) and dull, cardboard-flavored and healthy (Fiber One and its bran strand). 

It was a false binary. So Magic Spoon set out to prove that cereal could be healthy and “actually enjoyable,” Nam said. 

Magic Spoon sets itself apart in 3 key ways

Here’s Magic Spoon’s not-so-secret weapon: avoiding Big Cereal marketing tactics. Its marketing runs like a DTC startups’, which means…

It targets likely loyalists with Facebook Ads.

Everyone can enjoy Magic Spoon, but it has special value for one demographic: keto enthusiasts.

Unlike most household name cereals, Magic Spoon is low-carb — and uses Facebook and Instagram ads to target people who’ll appreciate that. 

How it sets Magic Spoon apart: Major cereal brands don’t usually have e-commerce shops, so it’s rare to see performance marketing from them. (What would the “Buy” button link to?)

It prioritizes personalized storytelling. 

“Because we’re digital-first, we’re able to really personalize,” Nam said. 

That’s not just through ad creative — they use Google Optimize and Unbounce to make their web experience shapeshift depending on the viewer.

So if you click on a keto-leaning ad, you see a landing page highlighting Magic Spoon’s protein content — but if you click on an ad for parents, you might see parent testimonials. 

How it sets Magic Spoon apart: Many bigger cereal brands broadcast more than they personalize. “Like, this is our TV commercial for this month or this quarter — everyone watch it,” Nam said. 

It lands earnest creator endorsements.  

Magic Spoon invests in “endorsement media” — sponsored posts from influencers and host-read podcast ads on shows like Pod Save America — to highlight how much trusted figures love their cereal. 

First-hand experience is key to here. “We make it a point to send everyone cereal a week or two before we do any partnership,” Nam said. 

Then, Magic Spoon asks influencers to hit a few talking points, like the protein content, and avoid a few things, like guilt trips about eating sugary cereals.

The main directive? “Just talk about your organic experience.”

How it sets Magic Spoon apart: Big brand cereals are more likely to run a scripted ad starring an A-list spokesperson than share creative control with a network of smaller creators — though that’s starting to change.

Our takeaway? 

A sector crowded with legacy brands isn’t necessarily saturated. Sometimes, it’s stagnant, and an underdog can sweep in, tap underutilized marketing channels and thrive. 

All while charging about 2.5X the price of Cheerios

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is editor in chief at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she loves learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture.

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