WHO KNEW that whole grains, sugar, flavorings, vitamin E and a smidgen of advertising could be so combustible? Those are the ingredients of a bomb of a controversy that’s roiling the comment sections of blogs and Web sites ... and showing us, sadly, that if you want to find out how much some people hate, and how fast they can prove it, there’s nothing like the Internet.
By now, you’ve seen it, the Cheerios video that’s everywhere. Its basic human components — mommy, daddy, impossibly cute little kid(s) — you’ve seen a thousand times. But in the newest one, “Just Checking,” the folks at Cheerios (and at Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency that created the ad) have gutsily tweaked the family equation to reflect the times we live in. You already know how:
Let the hating begin. No sooner than the ad turned up on the Cheerios YouTube page than a torrent of racist-troll bile began, the comments coming so thick, fast and mean that the page’s comments had to be disabled and scrubbed.
From a purely commercial perspective, the ad did what ads are supposed to do. You Tube view counts of “Just Checking” have swamped those of every other Cheerios You Tube ad-videos on the page, by orders of magnitude. At this writing, it’s been viewed more than 635,000 times in the last three days.
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BUT THE ad did something else. It opened a window into how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go as a society. Even the casual student of modern American history knows that it wasn’t so long ago in our lifetimes that such unions as the one depicted in the Cheerios ad were flat out against the law.
Until Loving v. Virginia, the momentous 1967 Supreme Court decision prohibiting laws that barred marriage between the races, interracial couples walked a grim and sometimes tragic existential tightrope in a society that wasn’t nearly ready for that reveal of the romantic experience. Back then, Cheerios wouldn’t have dared to release an ad like that.
Then was then and now is now. We’re four and a half years into life with the first African American president in the nation’s history; a decade at least into a reordering of the country’s historical demographic hegemony. We live in a time when people have let go of that poisonous past. We also live in a time when, simply put, some people haven’t.
For all the outright hatred of the ad campaign — associations with Nazis, and the words “racial genocide,” “troglodytes” were some of the tamer flames — the ad’s generated an equally broad expression of gratitude, and (finally) recognition of the biracial experience from a major corporate player, part of a business world that remains largely risk-averse on matters of company branding and image.
AGAINST all the odds today, people showed they understand right from wrong. The Cheerios Facebook page just topped 1 billion likes. And some weren’t afraid to fire back at the trolls with equal brio. On the SuperHeroHype forum site page about the ad and its reaction, chamber-music, from the United Kingdom, let fly: “Mostly morons post comments on YouTube so it’s not a surprise. Most of those racist knuckle draggers wouldn't have the balls to say the stuff they post in real life or to peoples of colours faces. Typical Internet cowardly racists.”
In a statement, Camille Gibson, Cheerios vice president of marketing, said “[c]onsumers have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad. At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all.” Can I get a billion witnesses.
The new Cheerios ad asks us to buy cereal. It wouldn’t be much of an ad if it didn’t. But in a sweetly sly way, a way that’s no more benignly subversive than any other ad on television, it’s asking us something else. Something that’s more about character than cholesterol: “Hey America — is your heart healthy? Is it in the right place?
The little girl: Still image from the ad. Cheerios box: © 2013 General Mills Inc.