On Thursday, blogger Monica Mingo posted about a new Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial family, noting that it was causing a stir and asking readers if it bothered them.
I watched and couldn't understand what about the video might be bothersome. As commenter Roslyn Holcomb wrote: "Cute. Causing a stir where? 1956?"
After clicking around the Web, I discovered that the issue was indeed the commercial's interracial-ness. People on YouTube and Reddit were salty because the ad seemed to push "race" in their face: "These videos encourage people to seek partners outside their racial group. It already happens too much ... for comfort. I shall eat Toasted Oats instead."
I can't show you more because the comments got uglier over on YouTube and the comment section for that video was shut down. But according to Tim Nudd at AdWeek, the comments included "references to Nazis, 'troglodytes' and 'racial genocide.' "
Here's the thing: We're used to companies targeting minorities and jacking it up.
In May, for example, PepsiCo pulled a Mountain Dew ad — dubbed "the most racist commercial in history" by one critic — from all its online channels. The ad, part of a series of commercials by Tyler, The Creator, showed a cop pressing a battered woman with a crutch to pick out her assailant in a line-up that included a goat and five black men. (I never even understood what this commercial was supposed to be trying to tell me. But yeah, MISSTEP.)
And last year, Burger King pulled this commercial featuring hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige singing about their crispy chicken wrap:
The company says it pulled the ad for licensing and other reasons, but the crispy chicken ad was criticized by some for relying on greasy old stereotypes: Black people love them some fried chicken, they sho'nuf do! (Code Switch blogger Gene Demby recently explained the origin of that crispy fried trope.)
But with this Cheerios commercial, the company seems to have done everything right. Cute little girl. A mom, a dad. A box of Cheerios. Love, caring. The written statement I got from Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, was as warm and fuzzy and inoffensive as the commercial itself: "At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all."
And still, there was blowback.
Too many black folks, not enough black folks. How does a company market to anyone in the era of social media when everyone is a critic? What can you do? *pulls hair, screams*
"Advertising is about appealing to people in some way that makes them buy your product or service," said Michael Burgi, features editor for AdWeek. "Someone is always going to get their nose bent out of shape. You have to be careful of not offending people who have money in their pocket to spend."
But as Burgi pointed out, haters gonna hate (my words, not his). The bottom line is that great ad campaigns that feature minorities and interracial couples — such as the Cheerios commercial — are moving product for companies.
Fashion and issue advertising are areas likely to push the envelope, and Burgi reminded me about how multicultural Coca-Cola is in its advertising.
McDonalds, on the other hand, is very careful with its marketing, Burgi said, highlighting specific racial or ethnic groups such as Latinos, but rarely overlapping them the way the Cheerios commercial does.
"Many of McDonald's ads now feature only African-Americans," Burt Helm reported in a 2010 Bloomberg Businessweek story. "Of the 10 most-aired TV ads from the past 12 months, compiled by ad tracker Nielsen IAG, five had all-black casts. While the ads usually push specific products or deals, many use situations aimed directly at ethnic consumers."
But of course, McDonalds has also been accused of exploiting children of color in its marketing.
So now I turn to you, dear readers. With all the potential minefields, is there any way for a company to do this right? Tell me your ideas — and share examples where this was done well — down in the comments.