How A Cereal Ad Exposed America.

The Power of Promotion.

How A Cereal Ad Exposed America

With everything that has been going on mainly between people of color and those of Caucasian decent over the last, oh I don’t know, FOREVER, the world watched with promise as we looked at America getting their stuff together. They elected the first black president in American history, everyone was dancing to hip-hop and playing basketball regardless of color and it wasn’t just whites going to Ivy League schools. The world was genuinely happy because finally, they had gotten the point. FINALLY! After years and years and years of segregation and decades of maltreatment of people of color, here was white America coming around. Bravo! Bravo.

Of course, there were incidents that made us question the realness of that bond. Trayvon Martin in 2012. The incident made us gasp in absolute horror as we scrutinized the vindictiveness of this white man. A white man who held no remorse for what he did and who was not at all treated like the criminal he was during preliminary investigations. But then we had the America we knew come through. Good old melting pot America. They condemned him on social media and expressed solidarity with this young man’s family. So then we thought “America IS changing for the better. They are more accepting now. Wow. Bravo! Bravo.”

We were blissfully proud again. The Paula Deen incident also happened and if I’m not mistaken the Hulk Hogan incident happened. All made us raise our eyebrows in confusion but every time it did go up, America was there to stand up and stand out. Good old ‘Merica. They yoyoed the world like that with tiny, but horrible, incidents yet the world was hopeful. We rooted for them. We cheered for them. We believed that they were getting better and that the remnant of the ugly ones would soon be eradicated by loud voices chanting for the inclusion of human beings. (DISCLAIMER: We still believe in y’all to do the right thing)

But in 2013, the yoyo broke and it was clear that they were not even close. SuperBowl 2013. If you’re not in it for the football, you’re in it for the ads. Neither one is a bad reason to be excited for the biggest NFL party of the year. The team at General Mills decided that they would be a part of the SuperBowl excitement and get their product some great publicity. Cheerios, which is an amazing cereal, would be the center of the pitch. At this point, I think that you, Reader, should know exactly the ad that I am referring to. The famous Gracie ad.

I thought it was adorable. It was really, really nice. A kid caring about her Daddy’s heart so much that she decided to dump sticky cereal on him. It was great! It was funny! It was brilliant and wholesome! It was condemned to hell like George Zimmerman. It was so bad that General Mills had to turn off the comment section on their YouTube page because it had stopped being PG. Why? America was doing so well and now here was this ugliness that was rearing its, well, ugly head. I know there were many people who came out in support of the ad but when a company has to turn off their comment section under any of their promotional activity, you know the negative voices were overpowering the positive ones.

It was condemned to hell like George Zimmerman. It was so bad that General Mills had to turn off the comment section on their YouTube page because it had stopped being PG. Why? America was doing so well and now here was this ugliness that was rearing its, well, ugly head. I know there were many people who came out in support of the ad but when a company has to turn off their comment section under any of their promotional activity, you know the negative voices were overpowering the positive ones.

It was so bad that General Mills had to turn off the comment section on their YouTube page because it had stopped being PG. Why? America was doing so well and now here was this ugliness that was rearing its, well, ugly head. I know there were many people who came out in support of the ad but when a company has to turn off their comment section under any of their promotional activity, you know the negative voices were overpowering the positive ones.

I remember listening to DL Hughley’s radio show (a one-time thing) on the net or at least a clip of it where they were discussing the issue. A woman (and she was white. Trust me) called in and said basically that the ad was inappropriate. When asked why it was inappropriate, she danced around it but what she really wanted to say was “They shouldn’t have shown an interracial family. That’s disgusting.” After hearing the reactions about the ad and after hearing the lady, I knew that the America that we were hoping was real was overexaggerated and that was our reality. The truth was white people were ready to sit next to you and work with you but they weren’t ready to marry you. Marketing did that. Marketing, or more specifically Promotion, brought out the ugly truth. Now before people start coming out and saying, “But black people can be racist too”, you’re right. All races can be racist and are racist in the US and across the world. I acknowledge that. But I am dealing with what happened during the events of this fiasco right now.

America was not actually ready for inter-race relationships. General Mills was probably ready but America wasn’t. I guess they got too excited by the numbers. I would be too if I saw that in 2012 8.4% of marriages were interracial as opposed to 3.2% in 1980 (source). What a jump! What a difference! In 2013, 12% of marriages were interracial (source). The numbers meant that this kind of family was becoming the norm. They were so happy that was happening and they decided to celebrate that because no other company would think to go there (which is a shame). But, they missed the survey that showed that only 36% of whites would support their family member marrying outside of their race (source) and that it was actually blacks and Hispanics that were the ones to be more accepting of other races into their family.

Is that their fault though? No. Their idea was brilliant at the time. Ground-breaking, even. It was society that made it ugly. But General Mills is the hero of the story. Why? They came out and did the basic – evoked emotion, got a buzz going about their product, captured the attention of millions. What they did beyond that though was show a people that they had a lot more work to do within themselves. They folded back the linen past the clean area of the bed and we saw how dirty the mattress really was. It was a good thing that was done. If the ad never would have aired, then the problem would still be happening and the world would be on the yoyo of “Are they or aren’t they?” The problem got exposed and America has a chance to actually deal with it.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we are used to seeing a mixing of the races. We are actually called a melting pot society. It bothers me that America can’t seem to get past this hurdle. But when this ad came out, I was able to breathe because I recognized a chance for healing and a genuine acceptance of one another regardless of race. The numbers do nothing for me anymore though. In 2015, 17% of all new marriages were interracial (source). In 2014, the rate of interracial marriage in the 35 and under age group was 13.4% (source).On the news the other day, I heard one in eight marriages were interracial. But we have increased rates of police brutality. We have increased shootings of unarmed black men and women. Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Interracial relations are getting worse so how could that bode well for interracial marriage. That would only create more chaos.

Nearly four years on, the same mindset bubbles below the surface. Sometimes as a marketer, the power of your campaign goes beyond you and you don’t even know it. That’s why I re-iterate that we have a power that is so impactful that we need to be careful about how it is used. Not everyone can do this and if you’re doing this, you need to ensure that you have the right mindset for the job.

 

Leave a comment below letting me know what was your ah-ha race relation moment from an ad or a promotional campaign. I would love to hear your stories.

Until the next article!

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