A brand that garnered brickbats — and bouquets — last year for its take on modern family life is returning with another 30-second parable about diversity, this time during the Super Bowl.
The brand is Cheerios cereal, which introduced in May a commercial featuring an interracial family that unexpectedly generated an outpouring of vituperative online remarks. Instead of shying away from the controversy, the maker of Cheerios, General Mills, has decided to bring out a sequel during today's championship game.
The new Cheerios commercial represents the first time that the brand, introduced in 1941, will be advertised during a Super Bowl. The sequel features the same cast members portraying the same contemporary family as in the original: black father, white mother and biracial daughter.
The plot this time will be centered on the father's disclosure to his daughter that she is soon to have a brother, and on her humorous reaction. Last time, the focus was on how Cheerios cereal is "good for your heart"; the daughter poured Cheerios over her father while he was asleep, on the side of his chest where his heart is.
Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios at General Mills, said the company did not intend to be provocative when it introduced the first commercial, nor does the company intend that now. Rather, the spots reflect that "there are many kinds of families," she said, "and we celebrate them all."
Commercials with diverse casts that "look like America" have become increasingly common as the demographic makeup of the country has changed. There are ads with single or divorced parents, people who speak Spanish, same-sex couples, consumers with disabilities and interracial couples. It was the interracial nature of the Cheerios cast that set off some people online, and they railed against the original commercial using angry, overtly racist language.
The backlash was so intense that General Mills, which had uploaded the spot to YouTube after broadcasting it on television, quickly disabled the commenting function on the post. As of last week, viewers still could not leave comments on the commercial, which has been watched almost 4.7 million times.
However, viewers have overwhelmingly expressed approval of the commercial by clicking on YouTube's thumbs-up button. As of Tuesday, there were more than 74,400 likes, compared with fewer than 3,000 dislikes.
All that led executives at General Mills to consider a sequel that would reunite the original cast.
When the original commercial received a hate-filled reaction, some attributed it to a debate about the spot on the front page of Reddit, the popular social-news website. Some said they believed that critics of President Barack Obama — the child of a black father and a white mother — used the commercial as a proxy to attack him.
Another theory held that the catalyst was giving a starring role to an interracial family in an ad for a mainstay brand such as Cheerios, challenging some viewers' vision of traditional values. Many previous commercials with interracial casts, such as one for Ikea from 1996, had been sponsored by upscale products or brands with foreign origins.
Because Cheerios is a "wholesome, all-American, classic brand," that may be a possibility, said Peter Moore Smith, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, the agency owned by the Publicis Groupe that creates commercials for Cheerios.
"When people saw a multiracial family in a Cheerios ad, that did make a difference. We expected some small amount of negative reaction, but the overwhelming majority was positive, and I'm hoping that's what we're going to get this time."