cheerios boxIt begins with a simple fact: interracial families exist. Not only do they exist, but they exist more and more prominently in the US

The Buying Power of Interracial Families

In fact, statistics show that one in ten marriages – that makes over 5 million marriages in the US – are interracial. It follows that members of interracial families hope to see themselves represented in media. According to Brad Adgate of Horizon Media in New York, the rising number of interracial marriages and, in turn, multiracial children, should offer plenty of incentive for advertisers to pay attention. Unfortunately, at this juncture, there has been little media prominently featuring interracial couples or their children.

Cheerios: A Game Changer

At the beginning of the summer, however, Cheerios released a TV commercial that featured an interracial family. The ad shows a little girl asking her mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. The mother responds with some little factoids about Cheerios (yes – they contain whole grain oats and lower cholesterol), and in the next scene viewers see the girl’s father waking up on the couch with a pile of Cheerios on his chest. The ad ends with the word “Love.”

Reflecting an American Family

This ad, an extremely positive portrayal of an interracial family, received a lot of media attention. Feedback for the ad was largely very positive. However, many angry commenters posted responses on YouTube criticizing the commercial. The root of the anger? Supporters of the advertisement would say that it comes from racism. Whether or not this is actually the case, many of the comments were overtly racist; after all, online anonymity gives a lot of people a venue to make highly offensive comments that they would never say out loud.

In response to the controversy, as CEM’s own Daniel blogged about last month, General Mills went on to remove comments for the commercial on YouTube. Feedback remains positive: the ad on YouTube has garnered almost 70,000 thumbs up, with a little over 2,500 thumbs down.

Heart-Healthy Lessons from Cheerios

The other response from General Mills was to put out a statement that they would not be pulling the ad, standing by what they believe. For Cheerios, it’s important to reflect the changing faces of American families as they are today, because people found they very much liked and related to the heartwarming commercial. Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said simply that overwhelmingly, consumers were responding positively. While the company takes backlash extremely seriously, they also believe in taking risks.

The takeaway, all in all, is that taking big marketing risks can be a good thing. Even with the vitriol directed at the ad, Cheerios believes that giving in to that kind of criticism would be a bad move. Ultimately, Cheerios stands by its ad, despite ruffled feathers – because for this company, the benefits of representing the changing face of what a family looks like outweigh the risks.

Have you seen the Cheerios ad? What do you think of how General Mills handled the controversy?