The Subtlety Of The Cheerios Super Bowl Commercial

I was going to write about the game. But from the first snap the question became, what game? So it’s on to the commercials.

The Cheerios commercial during Super Bowl XLVIII featured an interracial family: an African-American man, white female, and their daughter.  In case you allowed blood-thinner beverages to play overtime and your brain cells left at halftime, see if your fingers can be configured to click on this: 

What is not so obvious are the subtle, entirely intentional messages embedded therein. There is only so much you can do in 30 seconds, but since perceptions among cultures can vary, I wonder if what I noticed as an African-American male differ from the perceptions of those who are not. Here’s what I saw as it happened:

  • Middle Class-ness: The man has speech pattern of mainstream middle class corporate America – not to be confused with comedian Kevin Hart. (Language warning: see his stand-up  act here.) Nor did you hear ethnically identifiable background music. Would it have been the same if hip-hop/R&B tune The Monster by Eminem (white male) and Rihanna (African-American female) was on blast in the background?  Or why not unmistakably country – some of us like that too. So perhaps a missed messaging opportunity.  Of course, they did the right thing, keeping the music very subtly in the background. It was confined to a few piano passages, identifiable with no particular subset of America.
  • Naming Rights: Akin to the message above, the only one with a name in this spot is the daughter. Gracie, not Shemeka was probably a conscious decision.
  • The Props: Brilliant move by Cheerios to use their product as props for family members. Father pushed out 1 Cheerio at a time representing each parent. The subtle message is: If you love family, you love Cheerios. It was artistic, because daughter Gracie had the ah-ha moment timed perfectly. After the cautious father Cheerio’d daddy and mommy, she cheerfully (sorry) pushed out one for herself.
  • The Frown:  The drama was the big announcement: A baby brother is in the oven. A frown instantly formed on Gracie’s brow. No Anthony Davis unibrow thoughts came to mind. Only that she was troubled by inevitability that affection was going to be shared, perhaps to her detriment.
  • The Epiphany:  After the baby brother announcement, the subtle pregnant pause. Gracie’s actor qualities rise to impressive levels to tug at your heart at this point.  The frown-pause moment if followed by the epiphany, “and a dog”. Translated: “If he’s sweet talking me like this, he must want my approval. That must mean I have some bargaining power – (and what do I have to lose, the little guy his coming anyway). I can use this event to broker and barter a deal. If I have to put up with a babbling infant that cuts into my time and resources, I can now use my unprecedented leverage get what I want in return.”
  • The Subtly Screaming Message:  If you saw it differently, I would like to know. So would the ad companies and the Cheerios folks, because they were clearly sending a message beyond the brand. Or shall I say beyond the edibles. They sent the message that our brand includes not only a food product but people inclusiveness without borders along the ethnic barriers of the past.  It was as if they were saying: “We know our first interracial commercial brought some negativity. But we’ll take the economic risk that those who object will be lost purchasers.  And just so you know we mean it, we’ll pay $4 million for 30 seconds to reaffirm our commitment.”

No other Super Bowl commercial did that. So I will end now – and go buy some Cheerios.

Follow on Twitter please: @rgroveslaw and @SportsLawPI. I am the Director of the Business Transactional Law Program at Florida Coastal School of Law, and Founding Direc...