A mom sits at her kitchen table when her grade schooler saunters up with a big box of Cheerios.
"Mom," says the girl. "Dad told me Cheerios is good for your heart. Is that true?" Cut to dad waking from a nap on the living room couch with a pile of Cheerios on his chest (where his heart is) crunchily cascading to the floor.
The message is in line with the company's Heart Healthy campaign, except this 30-second ad features a black dad, a white mom and a biracial child and produced enough vitriol on YouTube last week that Cheerios requested the comments section be turned off.
This week, the company is standing by the fictitious family, which reflects a black-white racial mix uncommon in commercials today, especially in ads on TV, at a time when interracial and interethnic couples are on the rise in real life, according brand strategists and marketing consultants. Married couples of different races and ethnicities grew by 28 percent in the decade between 2000 and 2010, from 7 percent to 10 percent, census data show.
"The reality is that in general most big companies don't want to take a lot of risks," said Laura Ries, who has written five books on marketing and brand strategy and consults for companies large, small and in between.
Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said it's the first time the ad campaign that focuses on family moments has featured an interracial couple, with General Mills Inc. casting the actors to reflect the changing U.S. population.
"We felt like we were reflecting an American family," Gibson said.
As a large company, Minneapolis-based General Mills is used to getting some degree of negative feedback and wasn't surprised by the comments on YouTube, she said, but it was the first time the company requested the site turn the comments section off because of the vitriol.
The national ad will continue running as scheduled for several more months and Cheerios isn't planning any changes, Gibson said.