General Mills reacted ‘a little slow’ to racist backlash on Cheerios ad: Marketing expert

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The Cheerios advert featuring an interracial family received racist backlash on YouTube
The Cheerios advert featuring an interracial family received racist backlash on YouTube

Related tags: Marketing, Cheerios

General Mills could have acted faster to disable YouTube comments on its new Cheerios advert as a flurry of racist remarks were made about the interracial family it featured, a marketing expert says.

The 30-second advert made by Saatchi & Saatchi aired on national television across the US for the first time last week and was posted to the Cheerios YouTube page shortly after. Comments remain disabled on the video – that has now been viewed on YouTube more than 2.1 million times.

“I applaud General Mills; they did a terrific job in this situation. They did the right thing, they were just a little slow,”​ said Richard J. George, professor of food marketing at the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.

“There were a lot of negative comments left on YouTube that went viral,”​ George told BakeryandSnacks.com.

Expect, prepare and fire

Given the increasingly online nature of marketing – particularly involvement on social media platforms – feedback and consumer response happens faster, in real-time and visible to the world, he explained.

“I guess the question food companies need to ask is not if there is a backlash, but when and in what form. It’s always difficult to prepare for the unexpected, but this should be the expected now,”​ he said.

“The key for companies is to have a contingency plan and pull the trigger quickly,”​ he added.

George said this incident would likely become a mini cast study on the future of how food companies should interact with social media.

Social media: Friend or foe?

The marketing professor said an incident like this should not put companies off communicating via social media.

“It’s a great vehicle for companies because it allows them to develop customer intimacy built on listening and interacting,”​ he said.

“This backlash would not be a reason to pull back from having a relationship with these consumers,” ​he added.

Beneficial and positive in the long-run

Cheerios is an iconic brand, he said, and all of the publicity around this incident is ultimately going to benefit it.

“Every media outlet in the US is covering it… And they are positioned as a forward-thinking company,”​ he said.

“It would cost them millions to buy that sort of advertising. It’s going to beneficial and positive for them in the long-run,”​ he added.

You can view the ad here​. General Mills has defended its advert. Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios told BakeryandSnacks.com in an emailed statement: “Consumers have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad. At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all.”

Gibson expanded in an interview with MSNBC: “The comments that were made were, in our view, not family friendly. And that was really the trigger for us to pull them off. Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family, and there are lots of multicultural families in America today.”

Related topics: Manufacturers

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