Social-media-fueled brand controversies are more common than ever in the digital age. But even in the current crisis-of-the-hour media environment, it’s natural for major brands to take slights very seriously. Where millions of dollars are spent and fat profit margins are at stake, overreactions are understandable. You can almost sense the confusion, conflicting advice, and panic beneath the surface.
Most businesses will back down in the face of controversy, even when the criticisms are groundless. Remember when Gap backpedaled as brand-watchers criticized its new logo? Admittedly, the new logo was bland and the backlash probably added color to its reputation, but it was a stunning reversal in such a short time.
Sometimes a brand will simply cave. Home center chain Lowe’s pulled its ads when threatened with a boycott over its support of a reality show called “All-American Muslim.” The decision was met with fresh outrage from progressives, so it was a true lose-lose for the chain. But word like “one million moms” have been known to trigger a hasty media planning redesign.
That’s why it was refreshing when Cheerios, assaulted by YouTube trolls over a charming ad featuring an interracial family, was so unfazed in its response to criticism. Not only did it refuse to back down (and why should it?) but the tone of the brand’s response made it clear that the ad would go on.
Of course, it’s easy to stand your ground when confronted with ugliness, but lots of companies would have quietly killed the ad. More importantly, most probably wouldn’t have produced it in the first place. So, cheers to Cheerios for wanting to position its brand as inclusive and up-to-date. And even more for unapologetically disabling nasty comments and seeing the PR gold in letting the commercial’s actors speak for the brand.
By meeting its critics head-on instead of overreacting, Cheerios elevated the spot from a progressive commercial to a statement about brand values. And it reaped bowlfuls of good will in the process. Well done.