General Mills admitted a major blunder yesterday, recalling 1.8 million boxes of gluten-free Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios made accidentally with wheat. While the incident doesn’t exactly make for good publicity, the cereal manufacturer could use its digital prowess to leverage this moment in the spotlight.

Food brands have used this strategy before. Chobani, for example, had to recall batches of yogurt in 2013 due to quality concerns. A quick recall, a direct apology from the CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, and timely responses to complaints and questions on Facebook and Twitter brought the yogurt brand back into consumers’ baskets.

With a sizable TV budget and creative social campaigns like #howtodad, Cheerios also has the ability to turn the recall into positive attention. And even though the brand’s ad spend far outweighs its social media efforts, it has been able to leverage its television ad spend by inspiring fan engagement. Its 2014 Super Bowl commercial was shared more than 100,000 times within 24 hours –the only food ad to join the event’s top ten most shared commercials.

Cheerios on social

However, amid falling cereal sales, Cheerios has struggled to maintain its market lead. Ranked 31st in L2’s Food Index, Cheerios maintains its membership in the Gifted category but falls behind other General Mills brands like Betty Crocker and Pillsbury. A well-timed social media campaign around the new controversy might give the brand that much-needed boost.


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