By Chris Hoenig
A television ad for the iconic breakfast brand Cheerios featuring an interracial couple and their biracial daughter sparked an ugly rash of racist and insensitive comments.
The video touting Cheerios’ heart-healthy qualities and the brand’s place at the wholesome American breakfast table, which aired and was posted online last week, quickly drew more than 2 million hits on YouTube. But the site was forced to disable viewer comments after responses included references to Nazis and racial genocide. “We are a family brand and not all of the comments were family-friendly,” Camille Gibson, Vice President of Marketing for cereal maker General Mills, told USA Today. The racist comments on the ad were also spread virally across the web, including on the social website Reddit.
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman told DiversityInc exclusively that the backlash is disappointing, but not surprising. “Unfortunately, with all of its positive benefits to society, the Internet also has a dark side, which rears its ugly head when anonymous users use it to spread overtly racist messages,” Foxman, co-author of Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet, wrote in an email. “While disabling comments should only be a measure of last resort when a site is overwhelmed by hateful or racist messages, in this case, YouTube was right to take action so as to prevent some users from distorting the positive message of this ad.”
General Mills, No. 26 in the 2013 DiversityInc Top 50, did find support from consumers on its Facebook page. “My husband and I are an interracial couple. He is African-American and I am white. I was so impressed with the way Cheerios stood up to those racist comments and stated that it would absolutely not withdraw its new commercial,” Tanya Roberson wrote. “I will definitely remember this and intend to be a LOYAL Cheerios customer. Thank you, Cheerios, for doing the right thing!”
The ad has gained more than 6,000 likes and 1,500 shares on Facebook, but that is just a fraction of the more than 1 million likes the Cheerios page has. In response, the company released additional comments to the media stating that tumult over the ad will not affect future casting or branding opportunities featuring multicultural families. “There are many kinds of families, and Cheerios just wants to celebrate them all,” said Meredith Tutterow, Associate Marketing Director for Cheerios and Multigrain Cheerios.
This is just the latest ad to stir controversy. Last month, jcpenney drew headlines after people noticed that the billboard image of a tea kettle it sold resembled Adolf Hitler.
Officials at jcpenney, No. 50 in the DiversityInc Top 50, said the resemblance was unintentional, tweeting, “If we had designed it to look like something, we would have gone with a snowman or something fun.” The $40 kettle was later pulled from the jcpenney website and the billboard was taken down. The additional online attention, though, did manage to help the brand completely sell out of its inventory in just a weekend.
Some examples for racial backlash included on the social media website Reddit:
–]Blitzkrieg1210 5 points 6 days ago
“They want to throw white children and coloured children into the melting pot of integration, out of which will come a conglomerated, mulatto, MONGREL class of people! Both races will be destroyed in such a movement. I for one, under God will die before I’ll yield one inch…”
[–]hypastrophe -2 points 6 days ago
now all we need is a black character on tv that speaks in full sentences and we’re set!
No, it’s not about race. I’m not racist, it’s just that Cheerios ad families have been traditionally white and I’m just upset they had to go and change established characters for political correctness. I mean how would black people feel if they replaced Apple Jack ad families with white people. It’s totally not a racist thing, I just can’t relate to a black guy eating Cheerios, because all other Cheerios eating dads were white. Again not racist, just don’t understand why multi-culturalism is being shoved into my cereal eating habits. Again, not racist. Also, I have an intense hate for Obama, not because he is black, but because of his policies that are biased in favor of black people. Totally not a racist. Maybe you are the racist for thinking I am a racist. Yes, you are racist not me. Obama is a reverse racist. Friday 10:15am
AdWeek reported that the comment section contained numerous references to Nazis, “troglodytes” and “racial genocide.” The Huffington Post reported that some commenters on the cereal’s Facebook page also said they found the commercial “disgusting” and that it made them “want to vomit.”
One man expressed shock that a black father would stay with his family, writing: “More like single parent in the making. Black dad will dip out soon.” A stream on Reddit went off on a debate about the accuracy or likelihood of the mixed-race family being made up of a black man and a white woman rather than a black woman and white man.
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