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Fund-raising drive grew out of publicity idea for raisin bran. : Cereal Maker Helps Park Service Out of Its Crunch

April 24, 1986|MYRON LEVIN | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to identify a breakfast cereal with a cherished American institution--the national parks system--General Foods staged a lavish media bash Tuesday in the Santa Monica Mountains to kick off a park fund-raiser named for its raisin bran.

The Post Natural Raisin Bran National Park Pledge urges the public to aid the parks by buying boxes of the cereal. The campaign was jointly announced by General Foods and National Park Service officials at an elaborate ceremony at Diamond X Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The public relations blitz featured a videotape appeal from singer John Denver and a warm endorsement from National Park Service Director William Penn Mott Jr. The director lauded the "creative and innovative partnership" between his agency and General Foods.

General Foods got this public relations windfall by promising to donate $250,000 to the 337 national parks and monuments--if customers send in at least 500,000 proof-of-purchase seals from boxes of Post Natural Raisin Bran.

Marketing Goals Cited

The campaign grew out of General Foods' desire to tout a recipe change in its raisin bran and the addition of "natural" to the name.

David Hurwitt, a General Foods vice president and general manager of the breakfast foods division, said it's great "when your company's marketing goals line up so compatibly" with a worthy cause.

Leigh Warner, a product manager for General Foods, described the campaign as a "nationwide, grass-roots program" to aid the parks. He said the company will donate 50 cents to the parks through the congressionally chartered National Parks Foundation for each proof-of-purchase seal, up to a maximum donation of $250,000.

She said General Foods will urge other companies and individual citizens to donate money directly, and will send a certificate of appreciation bearing its raisin bran logo to all donors of at least $25. Warner said the company will seek to increase awareness of the park system by sponsoring a national parks trivia quiz in several major radio markets.

But some parks supporters weren't overly impressed by this largess.

"It's not that large an amount of money, frankly," said Destry Jarvis, vice president of the National Parks and Conservation Assn., a Washington-based group with 60,000 members. Although "the parks do benefit," Jarvis said, such campaigns can "cheapen the image of the Park Service" and encourage cutbacks in federal spending for parks.

Some Funds to Build Trails

General Foods officials said some of the pledge funds will pay members of the Youth Conservation Corps to build trails in several national parks.

About $2,000 will go to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for work on the Backbone Trail, which eventually will be a 55-mile footpath through the mountains from Will Rogers State Park to Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County.

"I don't have any problem with industry doing that," said Dan Kuehn, superintendent of the national recreation area. "With the budget crunch the way it is, I'll accept . . . money from anyone."

The expensive kickoff Tuesday featured free breakfast and lunch for invited guests. A glossy press packet even boosted the career of Denver, the honorary pledge chairman, who was said to have become "a mature artist" in touch with "the full spectrum of life's emotions."

Similar media events will follow in nine other cities, General Foods officials said.

Promotion's Cost Undisclosed

But they refused to say how much they are spending to promote the campaign.

Nor was it clear what the Park Service, as beneficiary, has had to shell out. There was, at least, the cost of plane tickets and hotel bills for Mott and several other Park Service officials from Washington and San Francisco. Moreover, 11 of the national recreation area's 50 employees took time out from regular duties to field questions, direct traffic and pose on horseback for photos.

The outdoor theme is already a staple for Post cereal promotions. For example, recent commercials for Post Grape-Nuts depict a rugged outdoorsman who eats milk and cereal at the end of an arduous climb.

The raisin bran promotion is part of a trend towards "cause-directed marketing," according to Donovan Neale-May, executive vice president with Dudley-Anderson-Yutzy, the ad agency running the campaign. He said this is "a more constructive way" to promote a product, because it directly contributes to a worthwhile cause. Moreover, he said, it may draw news coverage to products that otherwise could not get it.

Considering Other Promotions

"Obviously, we're interested in getting some credit for the company," Neale-May said.

Mott said the Park Service is discussing similar arrangements with other big companies.

Jarvis, of the National Parks and Conservation Assn., said "the parks do benefit" from corporate fund raising, but "public support through the Treasury" must remain the "predominant funding source for the National Park Service."

Mott, director of the California park system when Reagan was governor, said there is no danger of business promotions weakening government financial support for the park system. Rather, he said, they should increase public funding by showing how highly business and citizens value the parks.

Reagan Administration support for the parks system remains a sore point among conservationists. The Administration essentially has sought to freeze acquisition of parkland, which has continued at a reduced level only because of congressional insistence. In six of the last seven years, the Administration has sought zero funding for land acquisition in the Santa Monica Mountains.

This year, the operating budget for the mountain park is about 13% lower than it was in fiscal 1985.

Supporters of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area were angered earlier this year by a Park Service decision to close the local lands office in Woodland Hills.

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