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Nature Valley Connects With Content

Nature Valley granola bars, introduced by General Mills in 1975, is telling consumers to take a hike, but in a good way.

Inspired by Google Street View, which uses images from a 360-degree camera to provide pedestrian-level views of cities worldwide, the company is introducing a Web site called Nature Valley Trail View. The site features 58 hiking trails totaling more than 300 miles in the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Parks.

On the site, users zoom in on maps of parks to panoramically view individual trails. As with the street version, clicking directional arrows approximates walking forward or backward and gazing in any direction. With just one click, an “autoplay” function replicates hiking.

You won’t find any explicit pitch for their granola bars on the site. In fact, the only on-screen acknowledgment is a small Nature Valley logo in a corner of the screen, similar to cable network logos that appear during programming.

“It’s not necessarily about getting someone to go out today and buy a Nature Valley granola bar,” Scott Baldwin, senior marketing manager for Nature Valley, said of the project. “Supporting lifestyle causes that your customers care about is what’s going to keep them loyal to you, and when they have a choice, maybe they’ll choose you.”

The effort is part of a broader partnership between the brand and the National Parks Conservation Association, an independent, nonprofit group that supports the national parks. Through promotions in 2010 and 2011, General Mills donated more than $820,000 to the group.

The estimated cost for the first phase of the project, which the brand plans to broaden with more trails from more national parks, is nearly $1 million.

Theresa Pierno, executive vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said the project reminded her of what first enthralled her about faraway national parks when she was growing up in New Jersey: seeing spouting geysers and mountain vistas on her View-Master, the device for viewing 3-D images.

“It really is today’s View-Master,” Ms. Pierno said of Nature Valley Trail View. “We think that this is fabulous, and that it is hopefully going to help create stewards and advocates for national parks in the future.”

Andy Smith, co-author (with Jennifer Aaker) of “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” lauded the effort for presenting consumers with something beyond their granola bars to sink their teeth into.

“We love to shop and we love to buy, but we hate to feel sold to,” Mr. Smith said. “Brand loyalty is lost today, so you try to carve out a position where your connection to your customers is more based on enduring values and shared beliefs.”

[Source: New York Times]

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