Why Stacking Cheerios on Babies Was the Perfect Meme for the Brand to Jump On

The #CheerioChallenge had viral power, and an ideal message

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It was a silly viral meme on Father’s Day last year. But for Life of Dad, the website that started it, and for Cheerios, whose product was central to it, it turned into a user-generated branding campaign with phenomenal scale.

Life of Dad won a silver Lion at Cannes in June for its #CheerioChallenge meme. And it revealed the backstory of how the campaign evolved, and how General Mills eventually got involved, rocketing the viral trend to even greater heights.

It started on June 16, 2016, when Patrick Quinn, a co-founder of Life of Dad, was sitting in his California home with his sleeping son on his chest. Bored, but not wanting to move and wake his boy, Quinn passed the time by stacking Cheerios on his son’s head.

Quinn snapped a photo and posted it on Life of Dad’s Facebook page.

“Take the Cheerio stack challenge! How high can you go?” Within hours, the meme was born, as dads everywhere started stacking Cheerios on their sleeping children. Eventually, everyone from Macklemore to Reese Witherspoon to President Obama got involved.

Life of Dad eventually reached out to General Mills, which jumped on board and amplified the campaign through its own platforms. And wisely so—the campaign’s content, and timing, couldn’t have been better. It was fun, totally product centric, it launched four days before Father’s Day, and it had a social-purpose component by highlighting fatherhood and the softer, goofier side of dads. (Frankly, it was so perfect that it almost seemed planned, though all parties have denied that.)

“In recent years, dads have taken a greater role in household consumer decisions, and once we were officially working with General Mills, we knew we could effectively link the Cheerio Challenge to the excitement and energy dads often bring to the parenting world,” Life of Dad said in its Cannes Lions entry. “Dads might not always act the same way that moms do, but kids need their dads greatly involved in their daily lives. From late night television to publications world wide, the #CheerioChallenge was a viral sensation that showed the importance of fatherhood, and it was the largest spike in brand-awareness for Cheerios or any General Mills cereal brand in recent years.”

The entry said the campaign generated over 375 million impressions, over 250 major media placements and over 3.5 million social engagements during Father’s Day weekend 2016.

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“In the modern landscape of promo and activation, nothing can cut through the clutter like true user-generated content,” Life of Dad adds. “The authentic joy that everyday people experience when they take part in a viral social-media trend can deliver more happiness and brand affection than nearly any other work. When people collectively share in the emotion and fun of an internet phenomenon like the Cheerio Challenge, they feel happy, alive and entertained in the fullest sense.”

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.