Cheerios — a consumer brand perhaps least-likely to be embroiled in a racially tinged controversy — has found itself in just that.
Social media blow-back has been fierce, nasty and unusually racist after the top-selling, General Mills cereal brand last week began airing — and then posted online — a commercial featuring a sweet, mixed-race girl.

In the ad, she is seeking nutritional advice from her white mother and black father. The spot ends with her pouring a bunch of Cheerios on the chest of her sleeping father — believing it will make his heart healthier.

Even in an era when the nation’s African-American president is in his second term in office and with minorities soon to become a majority population, much of the social media response to the mixed-race ad has been poisonous, leaving some wondering what kind of reality such Internet response actually reflects.

The YouTube comments section for the ad, which had been viewed more than 1.7 million times as of midday Monday, was disabled late last week. “We are a family brand and not all of the comments were family-friendly,” says Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, in an e-mailed comment.

Perhaps the real issue it that it’s no longer just edgy brands trying to portray the real American consumer, says Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a firm that monitors African-American marketing. “We think of Cheerios as a great American icon,” he says. “There are going to be people who feel that their image of what’s American is now being challenged by these iconic brands.”
Call it new reality vs. old prejudices.

“A progressive-looking commercial collides with the ugliness of the Internet,” says Barbara Lippert, media and pop culture columnist at MediaPost.com.

General Mills is standing by the spot and has no plans to stop airing it or to take it down from its YouTube channel. “There are many kinds of families, and Cheerios celebrates them all,” Gibson says. Despite some serious, negative response online, “it’s been a very positive response overall,” she says.

Marketing experts are applauding General Mills — which first introduced the brand in 1941 as “Cheerioats, ” and in 1945, changed the name to Cheerios.

“They can’t bow to this incredible ugliness and underbelly of hatred,” Lippert says. “If the father had not been black, it would have been just another spot.”

General Mills, meanwhile, is not bending. Asked how this might affect casting for future Cheerios commercials, Gibson replied, “I don’t think it does.”
Source: Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY