In 1993, General Mills introduced a new product called Fingos – a cereal product that you could eat with your fingers and on the run. Unfortunately, the product was a little ahead of it’s time and it flopped. There was also an issue with the product name. I am a 3rd generation Hungarian and knew that “fingos” means to pass gas in that language. The issue was even mentioned in Michael White’s “A Short Course in International Marketing Blunders”.
Being a General Mills shareholder and that I used to live in the shadow of their corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, I decided to write a somewhat tongue-in-cheek letter to H. Brewster Atwater who was the Chariman and CEO of General Mills at that time. I got a very warm and humorous reply from H. Brewster and some free coupons to try Fingos.
When I look back on this event, this probably turns out to be my first foray into social media and having a conversation as customer/shareholder to a company. While the technology has changed (I faxed my letter and received a reply via mail), the process has not changed. Today, I would probably blog about the issue, discuss it on a forum or tweet about it on Twtter. But in the end, General Mills did the “right” social media thing, and both listened to and acknowledged my comments.
As I was writing this post, I did a quick search for a General Mills corporate blog, product forum or wiki and was not able to find anything – so surprisingly, the General appears to be stuck in the 1990s like 88% of the Fortune 500 and is still at the social media starting line.
In any case, I know you’ll find my exchange with H. Brewster Atwater to be amusing and ‘fun’. Just think how much better this would have played out in a corporate blog!
Here is the original letter I sent to H. Brewster:
And here is a copy of his reply:
I’m so glad to have found my old files and have enjoyed this trip down ‘memory lane’.