- 06/05/2013 by Leanne Italie (AP)
A recent Cheerios TV advertisement is in line with the company's Heart Healthy campaign, but features a black dad, white mom and biracial child. The ad produced enough vitriol on YouTube last week that Cheerios requested the comments section be turned off.
This week, the company is standing by the fictitious family at a time when interracial and interethnic couples are on the rise in real life, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, brand strategists and marketing consultants.
Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said it's the first time the ad campaign that focuses on family moments has featured an interracial couple, with General Mills Inc. casting the actors to reflect the changing U.S. population."We felt like we were reflecting an American family," Gibson said.
As a large company, Minneapolis-based General Mills is used to getting some degree of negative feedback and wasn't surprised by the comments on YouTube, she said, but it was the first time the company requested the site turn the comments section off because of the vitriol.
The national ad will continue running as scheduled for several more months and Cheerios isn't planning any changes, Gibson said. She declined to say whether the campaign would feature interracial ads going forward.
Overall, Gibson said, the feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive: "Consumers are actually responding very positively to the ad."
With millions of ad dollars at stake, how seriously do big companies like Cheerios take racist backlashes? Very, said Allen Adamson, managing director of the branding firm Landor Associates, but caving to critics is just as dangerous to a company as large as Cheerios.
"Advertisers for many years always took the safe route, which was to try to ruffle no feathers and in doing so became less and less authentic and real," he said. "To succeed today, big brands like Cheerios need to be in touch with what's authentic and true about American families."
"The traditional approach depicting the old 'Leave it to Beaver' family, while offending no one, is not very realistic," Adamson said..
"It's important for brands to take risks in line with what their brand is about," she said. "In this case Cheerios is the first food of children everywhere."
This image shows the child from the recent ad holding a box of cheerios