Less Than Cheery–The Cheerios Ad Serves Up Some Unanticipated Indigestion

My post for the Ministers Of Design blog

It’s an ad like any other Cheerios ad–heart-warming (and heart-healthy) and family-oriented so why the hoopla? The interracial-family-featuring ad elicited a veritable maelstrom of responses emblematic of the darkly vitriolic racist underbelly of Internet trolldom and prompting Cheerios to disable YouTube commenting. Camille Gibson, Cheerios’ Vice President of Marketing, explained: “The [YouTube] comments that were made were, in our view, not family friendly. And that was really the trigger for us to pull them off. Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family. And there are lots of multicultural families in America today.” Noteworthy is that the tagline of this ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, is “Love,” while previous ones were “Smile,” and “Happy Mother’s Day.”
The commercial has also received an equally vocal positive response for doing its part in “normalizing” biracial families by making them more visible in the media zeitgeist. The response from the multicultural community has been, overwhelmingly, “I finally get to see a representation of me on TV.” As Ad Week points out, however, TV ads have been notoriously behind the curve in “envelope pushing” in comparison to shows or movies, as brands are very fearful of making political statements in their casting choices. Arguably, multicultural families are a far cry from the shocking and subversive category, considering that 1 in 10 families would fit that definition, a 28% jump from 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, race representation concerns are starting to become much more prominent of a consideration in brand strategy, considering the multicultural ad market spending is rising in a serious way.
So was Cheerios being socially progressive or were they attempting (rather successfully, in this case) to divert public attention away from the GMO-labeling scandal which roiled their Facebook page less than several months ago? Clever brand repositioning notwithstanding, it seems like the ad did earn the company some “love” back.

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