Cheerios stands by commercial showing mixed-race family

Cheerios turned off comments on a YouTube video of an ad featuring a biracial family because of negative remarks.

NEW YORK — A mom sits at her kitchen table writing something down when her grade schooler saunters up with a big box of Cheerios.

"Mom," the girl says. "Yes, honey?" mom responds. "Dad told me Cheerios is good for your heart. Is that true?"

Mom glances at the box, noting that it says the whole-grain oats inside are "heart healthy."

Cut to dad napping on the living room couch. He stirs and starts to sit up, sending a pile of Cheerios on his upper chest (where his heart is) crunchily cascading to cushions and floor.

The message is in line with the company's long-running Heart Healthy campaign, except this 30-second ad features a black dad, white mom and biracial child and produced enough vitriol on YouTube last week that Cheerios requested the comments section be turned off.

Related: Cheerios ad shows how many racists hang out on YouTube

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This week, the company is standing by the fictitious family — which reflects a black-white racial mix uncommon in commercials today, especially on TV — at a time when interracial and interethnic couples are on the rise in real life, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, brand strategists and marketing consultants.

"The reality is that in general most big companies don't want to take a lot of risks," said Laura Ries, who has written five books on marketing and brand strategy and consults for companies large, small and in between.

"The ability for nameless, faceless people to get on the Internet is out there, and companies don't like it when people yell at them," she said.

Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said it's the first time the ad campaign that focuses on family moments has featured an interracial couple, with General Mills Inc. casting the actors to reflect the changing U.S. population.

"We felt like we were reflecting an American family," Gibson said.

As a large company, Minneapolis-based General Mills is used to getting some degree of negative feedback and wasn't surprised by the comments on YouTube, she said. But it was the first time the company requested the site turn the comments section off because of the remarks.

Another site, Reddit, filtered out negative comments on a thread started with a comment in support of the ad. The site left Cheerios defenders' remarks online.

The national ad will continue running as scheduled for several more months, and Cheerios isn't planning any changes, Gibson said. She declined to say whether the campaign would feature interracial ads going forward.

Overall, Gibson said, the feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive: "Consumers are actually responding very positively to the ad."

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