Hip-Hip Cheerio, Controversy Hero!

cheerios adWhile social media has become a powerful tool for positive social change, it has an uglier, darker side as well. When Cheerios posted a YouTube commercial depicting a biracial family, the ad generated such a powerful backlash from racists that Cheerios had to disable the comments section on YouTube.

Despite the backlash that arose from a small segment of viewers, Cheerios refused to withdraw the ad. In fact, Camille Gibson, the vice president of marketing at Cheerios, stated, “At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all.”

The situation Cheerios faced is a stark reminder that no matter how intricate and strategic your content marketing plan is, all brands are susceptible to disruptive behavior online. However, knowing how to respond to controversy – even if there wasn’t anything wrong on your behalf – is crucial to preserving your brand’s image.

How to Handle Controversy Like Cheerios

Though it’s no secret that controversy sells, most brands want to avoid the negative spotlight. If your brand finds itself in a precarious situation with consumers, your brand’s reaction will either fuel the flames or fire-up support. To respond like Cheerios did when they unnecessarily faced backlash over their ad:

  • Refuse to withdraw the ad. If there’s nothing wrong with your advertising or content marketing strategy, why cave-in? Cheerios understood that there was no wrong doing on their behalf, so they kept the ad online, which in the long run drew people to their support. However, if you’re like ING, which released an inappropriate ad poking fun at mental health, perhaps withdrawing the ad would be the best response. Ultimately, being responsible with your content marketing strategy and only publishing appropriate content is the best way to avoid controversy. And even if controversy arises, then you can at least rest assured knowing that your brand did nothing wrong.
  • Stop the backlash. By disabling the comments section, Cheerios was able to keep the ad online while slowing the response of racist comments. This also helped stop the controversy from directly impacting the brand’s image.
  • Respond as soon as possible. The response from Cheerios was swift and strong. By refusing to pull the ad and defending their portrayal of an American family, Cheerios showed that they cared about their consumers’ concerns and were working to protect their image. A timely response also is a powerful tool to slow and prevent further backlash.

 What do you think about the way that Cheerios handled this ‘controversy’?

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Daniel Chioco is a writer living in Nashville, TN. He earned his Commercial Music degree at Belmont University, where he also studied creative writing and wrote for the student newspaper. When he isn't creating content, Daniel works as an actor and films YouTube videos. He is also a freelance musician and is authoring his first fantasy novel.

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