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Cheerios Interracial Ad: When Social Media Goes Awry

Last week, as I was getting ready for work and watching the morning news, I noticed a Cheerios commercial that made me do a slight double take. The ad featured a typical American family, with a cherub-faced little girl asking her mom if Cheerios were good for your heart. The mom said yes. So, the little girl decided to pour the box of Cheerios on her dad’s chest – over his heart – while he was napping on the couch. The husband wakes up, sees the Cheerios on his chest and calls for his wife.

Cute commercial. It is very much in keeping with the kinds of television advertisements we’ve come to expect from Cheerios and its parent company, General Mills. But this ad was a little bit different. You see, the mother in the ad was white, the father was African-American and the little girl was biracial.

While taking a mental note of this interracial family, my initial reaction was, “cool.” I went on about my business.

Later that same day, a college friend posted about the ad on Facebook. She wrote, “I absolutely LOVE General Mills for the new Cheerios commercial featuring the biracial family. Inclusion. Love the vision.”

Many brands have begun featuring families in their commercials that look like America. Different races. Different ethnicities. Different religions. Different sexual orientations. And interracial.

Janita Poe notes that over the past few decades, the number of interracial households in the United States has climbed steadily. According to census data, in 2010 there were more than 2.4 million interracial married couples in the United States – about 4 percent of all married couples in the country. That compares with about 1.5 million in 2000 and just 651,000 in 1980.

And yet, this ad with an interracial family has struck a nerve with some on the Internet and has illuminated the ugly side of social media.

“Even in an era when the nation’s African-American president is in his second term in office and with minorities soon to become a majority population, much of the social media response to the mixed-race ad has been poisonous, leaving some wondering what kind of reality such Internet response actually reflects,” USA Today reports.

As of Monday afternoon, the ad had nearly 1.8 million views on YouTube. But because of the many hateful and hurtful comments left on YouTube, Cheerios disabled the comments.

Could it be that this brand, Cheerios, and this company, General Mills, are so identifiable with Americana, like a Norman Rockwell painting, baseball or a slice of apple pie? And for some, the image of this interracial family doesn’t fit with their view of America.

As Ragan’s PR Daily put it, “In a page out of the 1950s, an adorable Cheerios ad featuring an interracial couple has spawned a rash of hate speech.”

It’s worth noting that nearly 24,000 individuals who viewed the ad on YouTube gave it a “thumbs up,” compared to 1,500 who gave it a “thumbs down.”

This isn’t the first time hateful and visceral langauge has been found on social media. Just go to the comments section of any news story on the Internet about politics, gay marriage and a host of other societal issues, and you can read them.

The Internet is a marvelous tool. It has fostered the free-flowing exchange of ideas, and has given the “every-man” and “every-woman” the opportunity to let their voices be heard.

But the Internet also has created cowards who use the anonymity of their computers to spout hate speech.

And yet, General Mills remains undaunted. The company has no plans to remove the ad from its YouTube page or stop airing it.

“Consumers have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad. At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families, and we celebrate them all,” said Camille Gibson, General Mills vice president for marketing, in a statement.

Just for that, I might go pick up a box of Cheerios this week. Not only is Cheerios good for your heart, it’s also proving that it might be good for your soul.

 

 

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About Jeff Wilson:

Jeff Wilson, APR is associate vice president and director of business development for PadillaCRT. He develops and guides the implementation of the agency’s strategic communications plan, which includes media relations, social media, sponsorship, website copywriting, advertising and collateral material development. He also provides day-to-day management of the agency’s new business response functions. Jeff has earned some of the PR industry’s most prestigious awards, including PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvils, a PRSA Health Academy Innovation Award and an IABC Gold Quill. He was named one of PRWeek’s “2008 Top 40 Under 40” as well as one of Richmond’s “2007 Top 40 Under 40” by Style Weekly. He also is immediate past president of PRSA Richmond.

8 Comments on “Cheerios Interracial Ad: When Social Media Goes Awry

  1.  by  Marcy Walsh
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    I had the same reaction as you did — cool. Same reaction I had when I saw ads of women with real bodies in clothing versus anorexic models. And yet there is a whole contingency holding onto something that’s already lost. Let them rant. It only empowers the rest of us to keep pushing for what’s right. Go GM and everybody buy Cheerios!

  2.  by  Tommy M
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    The only way this ad could have been better is if it was advertising Honey Nut Cheerios. “In a page out of the 1950s”, indeed. This ad was simple and brilliant.

  3.  by  Jeff W.
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    Tommy M., Honey Nut Cheerios … Well said!

  4.  by  Kelly
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    It’s interesting how a simple, truthful portrayal of a family relationship can be seen as having an agenda. The bigoted posters see conspiratorial visions behind this message, but most rational people see only a family and a company that wants to sell a little more of its product. The real shock is that it became an issue at all.

  5.  by  Jeff W.
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    Kelly, thank you for your response. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  6.  by  Rachael Seda
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    Great post Jeff! I’m glad Cheerios stuck to their guns on this and while I wouldn’t typically agree with removing the comments section I think this was a good move on their part for this situation. I think I’ll pick up a box myself. I wonder if this ad will actually create a spike in there sales. It will be interesting to see!

  7.  by  Jim M
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    Comments sections of the internet are the cesspool of the internet.

    I wouldn’t say, ” . . . the Internet also has created cowards who use the anonymity of their computers to spout hate speech.”

    I would say the internet has given cowards an outlet for their venom and opportunities to spout.

    The spot has 3.5 million views, (as of June 17), and millions more of earned media.

    The controversy has been worth it . . . and it’s worth having the conversation.

    I wonder how the comments will be when the next type of spot has two mommies.

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