June 3, 2013 at 9:47 AM ET
A new Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial family has prompted a debate over race in America after drawing a host of ugly remarks online.
The commercial features a biracial daughter asking her white mother if Cheerios are good for your heart, and then dumping a batch on her black father’s chest to playfully help his heart while he is sleeping on the couch. Some of the reaction was so offensive that General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, disabled the comments section on the YouTube video of the commercial. General Mills has announced it will not be pulling the ad due to any controversy.
“The comments that were made in our view were not family-friendly, and that was really the trigger for us, you know, to pull them off,’’ said Camille Gibson, VP marketing for General Mills, on TODAY Monday.
Discussing the development, TODAY’s Donny Deutsch brought personal perspective to bear: Twenty years ago, the chairman of advertising agency Deutsch Inc. featured an interracial couple in an advertisement. While he applauded Cheerios’ decision to include a mixed-race couple in its commercial, he understood why some companies would shy away from it.
“What’s unfortunate is that I still think 97 percent of companies would stay away from this because they would say, ‘I don’t need the letters.’ Which is a shame, because in reality when you do an ad like this, yes, there will be some fringe crazy people,’’ Deutsch said on TODAY Monday. “Fringe crazy people go crazy about everything, but in reality you’re making a statement about your company: ‘We’re progressive, we’re inclusive, we are about today.’
“Great advertising holds up a mirror to who we are and where we’re going. We see it in TV, we see it in movies, and advertising is still very late to the game. My challenge to advertisers out there – get with where the country is going.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people reporting that they are of two or more races reached 9 million during the 2010 U.S. census, a 32 percent increase from 2000 to 2010. There were 16 states with 200,000 or more people reporting as more than one race, including half a million or more in California, Texas and New York.
Recent law school graduate Meagan Hatcher-Mays, the daughter of a black mother and a white father, believes the Cheerios commercial represents progress.
"I think this commercial is a really big step for interracial families,’’ Hatcher-Mays said on TODAY Monday. “The commercial represents that we exist."
“Advertisers have really one objective – to make money for their shareholders,’’ Deutsch said. “So if in reality there is one percent of this country that are interracial couples, that’s probably what the representation should be. This is a smart way to sell product and that’s why (Cheerios is) doing it. Your responsibility is to do what’s right for your brand, and for Cheerios this is right.”
Over the years, mixed-race families have rarely been seen on commercials. However, in a country whose president, Barack Obama, is the son of mixed-race parents, Cheerios feels the commercial reflects a growing reality.
“Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family, and there are lots of multicultural families in America today,’’ Gibson said.
But a number of people disagreed vehemently with that point of view on YouTube, resulting in the comments being shut down.
“Just gross, outrageous stuff, and the kind of stuff that's really rooted in unfair stereotypes of black people, really,’’ Hatcher-Mays said.
“I’m not surprised at the reaction, because social media is kind of the new Ku Klux Klan white hood,’’ TODAY’s Star Jones said Monday. “It allows you to be anonymous and to say the kinds of things that you would never say to a person to their face. But a lot of this is generational also. People in my generation are still stuck in giving the side eye to an interracial couple. I think younger people have gotten used to seeing black and white, and Latin and black, and Latin and white. That’s not going to be an issue in years to come.”