Add Kellogg's, that bastion of morning cereal snackery, to the list of companies that really should have some non-white-Christian people carefully scrutinize its materials before using them. The new criticism blowing up social media is that the company's Sugar Pops packaging has a subtle racist twist on the back.
It's as though 2017 has become the year of "Did anyone look at this before you decided to send it to market?" Remember Pepsi's ad with Kendall Jenner? The two marketing face plants by Dove this year? The other two by skincare brand Nivea?
In this case, award-winning novelist Saladin Ahmed looked on the back of a Corn Pops package and saw something that surprised him. A cartoon mall scene showed a bunch of Corn Pop characters doing this and that. All were the same off-yellow color except for one dark entity that was behind a floor polisher.
The one Corn Pop of color was the janitor.
Ahmed sent a tweet to the Kellogg's US Twitter account at 8:02 AM Eastern that read, "hey @KelloggsUS why is literally the only brown corn pop on the whole cereal box the janitor? this is teaching kids racism."
Kellogg's answered some hours later: "Kellogg is committed to diversity & inclusion. We did not intend to offend - we apologize. The artwork is updated & will be in stores soon."
Ahmed answered that he appreciated the quick response. And then replies started coming in from around the Twitterverse, including some mocking the idea that this image possibly could have been perceived as racist.
Sorry, I have to take an eye-roll break for a moment.
What most people who clearly don't understand marketing don't realize is that, certainly, images and words can often be taken multiple ways. One group may not see a particular connection. But another group will just as surely as dropping a bowling ball over your feet under positive gravity will soon elicit a burst of pain, and possibly the need for a trip to the ER for an X-ray.
Above all else, marketing -- of which packaging is as important a part as advertisements -- must be an exercise of directed and controlled communication. You absolutely have to know what you're saying, how it could be taken by multiple groups, in different cultures, and across a variety of languages and countries.
This is why big companies with lots of budget to undertake their responsibilities have to get everything reviewed by people outside of the group that came up with a campaign or design. For heaven's sake, run the stuff by someone. The amount of time and money it will take is miniscule. The amount of unnecessary perceived idiocy that you can avoid is immense.
Oh, and by the way, when I looked at the Kellogg's US webpage, the most recent tweet was from ... drum roll ... August 20, 2017. Really, if you're going to do social media, make sure you actually participate. If they had, maybe it would have taken minutes, rather than hours, to get a response to Ahmed.