December 6, 2019

Malt-O-Meal innovates with “Steamboat Bill” radio promotion

Your radio friend steamboat Bill

Post’s 125th and Malt-O-Meal’s 100th anniversaries mark more than two centuries worth of innovation in cereal and marketing. Between augmented reality and unexpected cereal flavors, we plan to continue our legacy of innovation for years to come. 

When John Campbell founded The Campbell Cereal Company in 1919, there were few ways to spread the word about Malt-O-Meal, the tasty hot cereal he invented. But a newfangled thing called radio was becoming popular.

Campbell became an early pioneer of the new medium, using his ingenuity to raise awareness of his new cereal.

Inexperienced in sales and marketing, Campbell had to walk around the block three times before getting up the nerve to contact the buyer at a wholesale company in Winona, Minn., to secure his first account.

Realizing there was an art to selling, he hired a salesman who offered free samples to grocery retailers. But he still needed to drive demand for his product. Then he had an idea.

Since children avidly listened to radio and were potential fans of his product, Campbell targeted his message to them by sponsoring “Steamboat Bill,” a popular kids’ radio show at the time.

Produced by WLS in Chicago, the show was broadcast to markets across the country. On the air, Steamboat Bill asked kids to send him Malt-O-Meal box tops along with their favorite jokes.

If Steamboat Bill read the kids’ jokes on the air, they received a free toy steamboat. As a tie-in, Malt-O-Meal boxes contained small steamboat whistles.

Sales skyrocketed. Kids demanded Malt-O-Meal from their parents and neighborhood stores. Orders poured in.

The Steamboat Bill promotion spread throughout the Midwest, Southwest and Pacific Coast, and as far east as Pittsburgh.

Thanks to Campbell’s insight, sponsorships continue to play a vital role in connecting with our consumers.