Overall, Gibson said, the feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive: “Consumers are actually responding very positively to the ad.”
With millions of ad dollars at stake, how seriously do big companies like Cheerios take racist backlashes? Very, said Allen Adamson, managing director of the branding firm Landor Associates, but caving to critics is just as dangerous.
“Advertisers for many years always took the safe route, which was to try to ruffle no feathers, and in doing so became less and less authentic and real,” he said. “To succeed today, big brands like Cheerios need to be in touch with what's authentic and true about American families.”
Those families include married couples of different races and ethnicities who grew by 28 percent in the decade between 2000 and 2010, from 7 percent to 10 percent, census data shows.
In addition to Cheerios, General Mills makes Betty Crocker cake mixes, Pillsbury refrigerated dough and Yoplait yogurts.
Actor Charles Malik Whitfield, who portrays the sleeping dad in the spot, thanked supporters of the ad and sees an opportunity for a dialogue.
“Let's not pretend racism doesn't exist. Let's not pretend that we've come so far. Let's be conscious of and appreciate the noise, and the negativity, because there's so much work to be done,” he said in a telephone interview.
Cheerios is not the first brand to show a black and white couple with a biracial child. A TV commercial for Blockbuster recently featured a white mom, black dad and biracial son enjoying a rental on the couch. As far back as 2009, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and its “spread a little joy” campaign had a black man and white woman (no wedding bands) enjoying a bagel breakfast in bed.