No sooner had Caitlyn Jenner shown her new self to the world via Vanity Fair yesterday than the question began popping up on social media: Should Wheaties put her back on its cereal box? (For those too young to remember, Jenner made the box of the original whole-grain cereal in 1977, not long after winning the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.)
But, breakfast cereal aside, is now the time for any brand to approach Jenner for an endorsement deal? After all, for this week at least, she's one of the most famous celebrities in America. And who doesn't love a comeback story?
"Jenner is absolutely marketable, and any brand could instantly pick up a million followers" by signing Jenner, said Hayes Roth, founder and principal of brand development firm HA Roth Consulting. "But it would have to be a brand that wants to make a statement about openness, fairness and transparency."
Petur Workman, vp of business development for creative agency Phoenix Media Group, said that now would be a fine time for a beauty brand to approach Jenner. "I can't imagine any cosmetic or hair-care company that wouldn't want her," he said. "If I were a label like MAC or Rimmel, I'd approach her. She's already got a long tail of followers."
"There are plenty of companies that would welcome her," said branding psychologist Robert Passikoff, president of consultancy for Brand Keys. "It's not as much of a stretch as you might think. With the whole LGBT universe out there, you could be talking $1 billion worth of buying power. So, whether you're personally invested in this [issue] or not, if you're talking marketing, there's a big market out there."
In fact, with the increased visibility afforded transgender people in the wake of Jenner's very public re-emergence, that group may well begin to compose a demographic brands would want to target specifically, Workman said.
"Now that Jenner has come out as transgender, more of the men or women in transition are going to have her to look up to—and they're going to need products," he said. "There's a whole new marketing platform."
Roth pointed out that a food brand might be a good bet for a Jenner endorsement deal, given how important "honest" ingredients have become lately. So, for instance, Chipotle maybe? Come to think of it, why not Wheaties?
Wheaties parent General Mills isn't saying much about the idea of returning Jenner to its cereal box. "We do not discuss our future marketing activities," media relations manager Mike Siemienas told Adweek.
Fair enough. But the thing is, consumers are discussing them.
Caitlyn Jenner doesn't need Annie Leibovitz or Vanity Fair. She'd be just as beautiful in sweatpants and a scrunchy. On a Wheaties box.— wile e. quixo†e (@ScottLinnen) June 1, 2015
Lots of people feel that way—especially young people. And that's why marketing experts like Shawn Prez, CEO of Power Moves Inc., believe General Mills should take the lead and return Jenner—the new Jenner—to the box. "It would be a smart decision, a 100 percent benefit to them," Prez said. "They'd be able to say, 'We were willing to endorse Bruce Jenner, and he's still the same individual. We have no prejudices.'"
Prez added that while some Americans might be grumbling about Jenner's transformation, a legacy corporation like General Mills could score big points with younger consumers by being out ahead on the transgender issue at a time when consumption of breakfast cereals has been falling steadily for the last decade.
"You're always going to have closed-minded individuals, but the millennial generation is different," Prez said. "It would be brave for a sponsor of his to come forward and say, 'We support him.'"
Since first using Lou Gehrig in 1934, Wheaties has differentiated itself by putting star athletes on its well-known orange box—more than 500 to date.
And while Jenner's athletic feat is nearly four decades behind her, there is precedent for Wheaties to honor athletes long after their glory days. Black Olympic athlete Jesse Owens wasn't honored with a place on the Wheaties box until 2003, 67 years after he won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
"Wheaties—that would be the best of all possible brands," Roth said. "That would be amazing, and it would say an awful lot."
But Roth doesn't think it's likely Jenner will be getting that call anytime soon. "General Mills is a very upstanding company," he said. "But they're from Minnesota, so that would be a bit of a stretch."