Diversity reaches new levels in Honey Maid ads
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
America’s biggest brands are at an advertising crossroads, and the new diversity that their ads project has suddenly emerged as one of society’s most visual — if not incendiary — flash points.
And it’s about to explode.
It began with several recent, high-profile diverse TV spots from two multibillion-dollar brands: a Cheerios spot staring a biracial girl with white mom and black dad; and a Coca-Cola spot featuring minorities singing America the Beautiful in their native languages. Both went viral and left trails of social media venom in their wake.
On Monday, Honey Maid will jump on the diversity bandwagon with a far-reaching campaign by the 90-year-old graham cracker brand that raises the use of diversity in mainstream ads to a whole new level.
In one 30-second Honey Maid ad, viewers will see everything from a same-sex couple bottle-feeding their son to an interracial couple and their three kids holding hands. The ad also features a Hispanic mother and an African-American father with their three mixed-race children. And there’s even a father covered in body tattoos. This is not some shockvertisement for Benetton. It’s an ad for one of America’s oldest and most familiar brands. The people in it are not actors, but real families. The message of the ad: These are wholesome families enjoying wholesome snacks.
It’s a brand new, multicolored, multisexual world of advertising. Major mainstream brands are plowing ahead and all but ignoring the expected social media blow-back, with one eye on demographics and another on survival. “The big brands are coming to the conclusion that diversity in America is inevitable,” says Andrew Erlich, a cross-cultural psychologist, consultant and author. “This horse has left the barn.”
Nor will that horse return any time soon. Some 37% of Americans are minorities and will likely reach the 50% mark by 2044, says demographer Cheryl Russell. Marketers are simply responding to the math, she says. “I call it the one-third rule,” she says. “When you exceed one-third of the population, you have political and economic power that far exceeds that level because you can make coalitions with a majority.”
Advertisers are simply reading the demographic numbers — and reacting. Whatever a traditional family used to be, it is no longer. One in 12 married couples in the U.S. are interracial. American women now make up 40% of primary family breadwinners. And only 62% of children live with their two biological parents.
“As a brand, you don’t really care who buys your product,” says Jo Muse, chairman of Muse Communications, one of the nation’s first multicultural agencies. “You just want them happy — and you want them to know that you see them.”
For the Honey Maid brand, which is owned by Mondelez, maker of Oreos, Ritz and Chips Ahoy, it’s about an almost century-old brand of graham crackers trying to reinvent itself as a product with both cultural and snacking relevance. For a generation of Millennials, who, unlike Boomers, were not raised on graham crackers, it’s an attempt to give the brand some cultural cred.
“This is a recognition that the family dynamic in America is evolving and has evolved,” says Gary Osifchin, senior marketing director of biscuits for U.S. Mondelez. “We’ve evolved, too.”
That evolution began in 2011, when executives took a long, hard look at the brand. A decision was made to move well beyond boxed graham crackers and make the brand far more relevant for snacking. So the brand created Honey Made Grahamfuls — graham cracker sandwiches filled with yummy stuff. That’s also about the time it stopped using high-fructose corn syrup — and began to promote that change.
Then, it brought Teddy Grahams under its label and started making the Teddy Bear-shaped treats with real fruit.
After years of stagnation, sales grew double-digit for the past two years, and now the brand is approaching $500 million in sales and even has eyes on ultimately becoming a $1 billion brand, says Osifchin.
Now, it’s all about appealing to a new generation that looks and acts different. All of this demographic change, the new Honey Maid ad implies, is just as wholesome as the brand itself.
“No matter how things change,” says an off-camera narrator in the ad, created by the agency Droga5, “what makes wholesome never will.” The camera then shows quick images of the gay couple with their infant and the mixed-race family out walking while holding hands. It also shows images of the folks eating Honey Maid crackers. The narrator then continues: “Honey Maid everyday wholesome snacks. For every wholesome family.”
No matter what their skin color or sexual orientation, “these families that we portray all have wonderful parent and child connections,” says Osifchin.
Clearly, mainstream brands are adapting to a new demographic reality. Executives at Coca-Cola declined to comment for this story. But General Mills executives say the reason for the mixed-race casting in their recent ads is simple. “We wanted these Cheerios ads to represent today’s families,” says Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios.
Now, Honey Maid is doing the same. “We want to be a brand that is current,” says Osifchin. “No matter how things out there in the world have changed, the enduring value of wholesome connections between parent and child have endured.”