Commercial advertising has been a game of raising the stakes to near ridiculous levels for some time now. Advertisers tend to straddle the line between good taste and just plain offensiveness that tends to garner attention for all the wrong reasons. It is not at all uncommon for advertisers to exploit gender or racial stereotypes as a means to court controversy and attract consumers to the brand. Mountain Dew recently experienced a bit of blowback with their trio of absurd ads depicting an ornery goat and a bevy of racial stereotypes. For the most part, this sort of blowback and criticism is usually reserved for such depictions that are intended to be inflammatory, or those just rooted in utter ignorance. The commercial is aired, people react, maybe an organization gets on board with a public condemnation, and then the ad is pulled and everyone tries to forget such unpleasantness.
Well it is somewhat of a different story with a recent Cheerios televised commercial that wasn’t intended to court controversy, nor was it created out of ignorance or insensitivity. The commercial, which even I (with my jaded exterior) find quite cute, involves a little girl who asks her mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. After her mother answers in the affirmative, the commercial cuts to a napping father on the couch with a small mountain of Cheerios piled on his chest, presumably placed there by his concerned daughter who wanted to help her father’s heart. Other than the supposed mess that a pile of Cheerios would make, there really isn’t much to object to here, right (see commercial above)?
Well the issue here was not so much the actions of the family, but the fact that the family was of mixed race (mother was Caucasian and the father was African-American, and the daughter was logically mixed). There was nothing in the context or subtext of the commercial that was about or a direct advocacy of mixed marriages, it just simply was. The blowback for such a commercial, at least once it was placed on Youtube, was decidedly ugly. To be certain, the comments field on Youtube is rarely a place of civility, subtlety, or worthy insight, but the awful insults and race baiting posted in comments was enough for Cheerios to close the comments on the page, to avoid further flame outs. Prior to the closure, the comment section had been filled “with references to Nazis, ‘troglodytes’ and ‘racial genocide,’” according to Adweek.
While the commercial still airs on national television, such provocateurs have yet to figure out how to ruin broadcast television for the rest of us, with their racial invectives.