How Cheerios Campaign Overcame Controversy

​In June, Cheerios released a commercial that was fairly standard as far as cereal advertisements go. A predictably adorable little girl asks her mom if Cheerios are good for the heart. Mom replies that whole grain oats can lower cholesterol, which is heart healthy. Cut to Dad waking up on the couch, his chest covered in Cheerios from his daughter's attempt to improve his heart health. Cue upbeat jingle heartwarming slogan. It's a pretty generic ad-except that the family is interracial. One would hope that in 2013 an interracial family would not be considered abnormal. When recent studies have shown that interracial couples make up a significant number of all married households, it seems only natural to include them in an advertising campaign. Yet the backlash was so strong that General Mills, which owns Cheerios, had to close comments on the YouTube video. When the racist remarks migrated to another Cheerios ad featuring an African American family, General Mills decided to close comments on that video, too. Immediately after the controversy broke, Cheerios representatives responded and they have remained vocal and engaged ever since. Vice president of marketing for Cheerios, Camille Gibson, has stood by her company's commercial stating that she felt "like [they] were reflecting an American family." "At Cheerios," Gibson said, "we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all." For all the negative reactions the ad has received, Cheerios has been overwhelmed with positive feedback, too. Biracial authors have written pieces in support of Cheerios and according to Gibson, "consumers have responded positively." A new project named We Are the 15 Percent has even come about as a result, referencing the 2008 statistic that 15 percent of all new marriages are interracial. Ultimately, Cheerios' advertisement and their commitment to defend it was a wise public relations move for the company. It makes a statement about their values and sets them apart from other cereal brands by designating them as progressive and socially responsible. For many consumers who want to support brands that are aligned with their beliefs, Cheerios now represents a strong option. The company's public dedication to stand by their decision, as indicated by Gibson's comments, has only furthered support. But perhaps the most ingenious aspect of all is the manner in which Cheerios initially portrayed the family. The racial makeup is not the focus of the commercial. Any makeup could have been substituted and the ad would have remained the same, and that's exactly the point. Both the ad itself and Gibson's comments have reinforced the idea that there is nothing spectacular about an interracial family; Cheerios was just portraying an average American family. And in that, Cheerios is probably most progressive by not trying to be progressive at all. By Katherine O'Brien, SM& Co-Op

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