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General Mills Ups Ad Spend

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NEW YORK A ghastly economic climate is likely to stall TV advertising sales growth in 2009, but at least one category is expected to provide some small relief next year.

Packaged-food purveyors are expected to up their overall ad spend, as consumers curtail their restaurant patronage. According to TNS Media Intelligence data, the packaged-foods category increased its measured media spend by 6 percent between January and September 2008, with Kraft Foods representing the biggest spender of the bunch.

More help is on the way from General Mills, which in its second-fiscal-quarter earnings call Wednesday reported that it has upped its consumer-marketing commitment 21 percent year-to-date. For the quarter, the company increased its advertising spend by 10 percent versus the same time a year ago.

“The current economic environment is challenging, but our brands are a good fit with consumers' needs for great tasting, healthy, convenient foods at a good value,” said General Mills CEO Ken Powell. “We continue to invest in our brands, with consumer spending up 21 percent so far this year.”

General Mills spent almost $700 million on marketing last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, and nearly $435 million through July.

If the company can keep its commodity prices down, there’s no reason to expect it will pare back its ad spend in the new year. “Advertising is helping to drive penetration," said Pillsbury president Juliana Chugg. “In addition to traditional TV advertising, we’re promoting . . . Pillsbury baked goods in nontraditional channels such as the Internet, in movie theaters and on billboards.”

General Mills is also getting a boost from its flagship Cheerios cereal brands. A campaign in support of a new cereal product, Banana Nut Cheerios, should push dollars toward daytime broadcast and cable TV, as well as print outlets like Reader’s Digest. The company also places a lot of marketing muscle behind its Progresso soup line and Betty Crocker cake mixes.

The company has been a constant presence on American TV since the medium’s infancy. On Aug. 29, 1939, Wheaties sponsored the first live Major League Baseball telecast, a meeting between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers carried by NBC precursor W2XBS.