2 Minutes With … Melissa Wildermuth, Global Creative Director at General Mills
Melissa Wildermuth is global creative director at General Mills, as well as creative director for the company's Brand Experience team. The Brand Experience mission is to boldly build brands by inspiring, enabling and delivering ideas that enhance people's experience with General Mills brands.
Melissa is the company's first female global creative director and leads one of the most successful creative organizations. She believes brands have the ability to create logic-defying value through meaningful experiences that solve a problem or deliver joy. She is a firm believer that vulnerability and understanding grow when the ego, so prevalent in creative organizations, is starved. Only then can creativity flourish.
Melissa and her team won a Grand Clio in 2021 for Loki Charms, a Marvel Studio collaboration with Lucky Charms. For Wheaties, her team helped Tommie Smith, the trailblazing athlete who raised his fist in silent protest for racial injustice at the 1968 games, realize his dream of being on the cereal's cover.
Melissa graduated with a B.A. in communications from the College of Saint Benedict. She lives in Minneapolis with her three children. We spent two minutes with Melissa to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.
Melissa, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, and now live in a suburb of Minneapolis. In between, I've lived in Chicago. My heart is in the Midwest!
How you first realized you were creative.
I used to write poems for my friends in college. And I'm not talking high-brow, sophisticated poetry, I'm talking about poems that captured our night out at the bar having fun. You can imagine the content! But it was the first time I realized I could take something we all experience every day—every Thursday night?—and turn it into something really interesting.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
I've always loved Prince and was obsessed with him in high school. For the first and only time, my mom let me skip school to wait in line for his concert. I think musicians are creative geniuses, and he's one of the few at the top of my list—he also helped put Minnesota on the map!
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
I spent a semester abroad in Greece and Italy in college, and that opened my eyes to this huge world full of different people, cultures and experiences. It was also the best reinforcement that all of us are much more alike than we are different—we all want to be loved, valued and seen.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Taylor Swift. She's such an amazing storyteller. I'm bringing up the median age of the Swifties, much to the dismay of my teenage girls.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I have been a fan of This Is Us since it debuted, and was still hooked on the final season this year. I cried every week, but I still always felt a glimmer of hope and optimism.
Your favorite fictional character.
I love Charlotte's Web and there are so many amazing characters in that book—I see you, Templeton—but my favorite character is Charlotte because she so beautifully exemplified gratitude. Who didn't want to cry when she told Wilbur, "You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing."
Someone or something worth following in social media.
Glennon Doyle. I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with her when we celebrated International Women's Day at General Mills. She has this amazing ability to put words to so many feelings, emotions and experiences each of us has in life. That's such a gift. I love her podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, and she's fun to follow on social media because she has a great sense of humor and view on life.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
I know Covid has changed us all and, for me, Covid made the highs feel higher and the lows feel lower. The world was shut down, and I had this strange/wonderful/stressful opportunity to spend every waking moment with my three teenagers. And while that was happening, at the same time, I couldn't hug my parents. It was such a roller coaster of emotion. It was another experience that made me realize how human connection is so vital to our existence.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks Win and Give promotion in 2010. This was a simple promotion where we gave kids in the U.S. the chance to win a laptop, and for every laptop won, we would donate one to a child in Africa through the One Laptop Per Child Organization. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Africa and hand-deliver some of the laptops and meet so many kids and their families. I loved this effort because it changed my view of what marketing had the capability to achieve. It reinforced the power of partnerships which I still work on today. But more than anything, it was transformative in showing me that marketing could do much more than help sell products and experiences; marketing could make people's lives better.
A recent project you're proud of.
Last summer we teamed up with Marvel Studios to introduce, Loki Charms, a limited-edition Lucky Charms cereal inspired by fans. Lucky and Loki are similar in that they are both mischief-makers and also happen to don green and gold, so fans began to draw parallels between the two characters and create their own Loki Charms memes. Lucky Charms and Marvel Studios wanted to make this a reality for fans, so we brought it to life. I very much believe ideas are a team sport and no one person can create an idea alone. But I also believe passion and perseverance are critical to creativity, and one of the women on my team, Lisa Balzo, exhibited this in spades. She helped our internal teams see the power in this idea, and her passion was THE key to pushing through supply chain and logistical issues. Don't underestimate any one person's conviction in solving problems and making things happen!
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
My mom. I believe creativity comes from the ability to solve problems and deliver joy, and my mom did this day in and day out as a preschool teacher for 19 years and a mom of four to me and my three brothers. That preschool classroom and our living room were filled with art projects, songs and make-believe, which taught us life lessons in the power of sharing, compassion and happiness.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
Brené Brown. I've started watching her series, Atlas of the Heart, on HBO Max, where she uses her research and pop culture to define the 87 emotions and experiences we all have as human beings and how each of us can develop more meaningful connections with each other. I think understanding this is so critical, not only to marketing but to living a full and successful life.
Your main strength as a creative person.
I am naturally curious about people and ask lots of questions, which makes it easy for me to connect with people and quickly understand what motivates them.
Your biggest weakness.
I'm very quick to have an opinion and know I need to do a better job of being patient and really understanding all sides of an argument.
One thing that always makes you happy.
One thing that always makes you sad.
When someone thinks they are more important than someone else. We are all on this earth just trying our best.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
Well, my dream was to be Katie Couric and talk to people for a living. I LOVED the idea of that! And long story short, I failed miserably at that dream, but my guess is that I'd still be trying!