This sense of dourness is currently pervasive across all aspects of our culture. Monologues from late night TV hosts like Steven Colbert, or SNL’s political cold openings don’t want to make us laugh so much as lecture half the country for wrong think. Everything is political. It is rare to see a new movie that is entertaining for entertainment’s sake. Comedians who just a few years ago might have been revered are now walking on eggshells, for fear they might offend an audience member who to all appearances went to the show for the express purpose of being offended.
Advertising, with few exceptions, has not escaped this malaise. We have now entered the Super Cereal era. Brands aren’t espousing the benefit of their brand versus their nebulous brand values. As if every brand needs a value. Like seriously can I just get my french fries, already.
That’s why I was so inspired when I saw Interracial Couple In A Cheerios ad, which is a fake ad satirizing real ads, and really the advertising industry in general.
I had the chance to talk to its creators David Roth & Yuriy Mikhalevskiy, who paid for this out of pocket. Unfortunately, we had some technical issues with our hard drive and the recording was corrupted. But I remember the bulk of our conversation and I’ll do my best to add it within the context of this not-quite ad.
Interracial Couple In A Cheerios ad is part of a larger product called Inclusive Musical and dubs itself “The musical that’s braver than Walmart’s Juneteenth ice cream flavor,” which is one of the bigger marketing blunders in recent memory even if it came from a pure place.
Someone in Walmart’s marketing department (I’m assuming here as It might have come from one of the agencies it works with) noticed that Juneteenth was coming up and decided to do something inclusive. It backfired.
But in a world where if you do something you are criticized and if you don’t do something you are “remaining silent,” Walmart and so many other brands are between a rock and a hard place. And so the only thing to do in Walmart’s case is to pick yourself up. And then jump on the next bandwagon.
Roth, and Mikhalevskiy have picked up on this, and use wit to savage it. An interracial couple in a Cheerios ad is old news. One must up the inclusive ante. And they run the gamut between inclusive pairings from indigenous Australian and South American to someone with a cleft palate to half Thai and body positive, differently limbed, neurodivergent non-binary and narcoleptic.
But of course that isn’t enough. Because it’s still just two people. And so the musical switches the couple to a throuple, and it keeps building and building until to the ultimate conclusion — this will be a great super bowl spot.
Roth, and Mikhalevskiy are both copywriters which explains how well-written the song is — no small feat when so much can go wrong. But their observational wit also takes a swipe at agency culture in general. Staffed mainly of blue-state-minded people who are making ads that will make “Rachel Maddow happy and Sean Hannity mad.” Admonishing each other for not being inclusive enough and making notes for HR to make sure the agency hires someone raised by a throuple.
They searched for people to help produce this, and while initially, everyone expressed keen interest a few hopefuls backed out, possibly for fear of the skit's topic as it effectively mocks the ad industry itself. Like an updated "Truth in advertising".
At one point in our discussion, I learned that Roth is Jewish and Mikhalevskiy is gay. We talked about “Bros,” the gay rom-com, and how Mikhalevskiy had planned to see it based on its own merits until its star Billy Eichner blamed homophobia for its dismal box office opening. Instead of galvanizing him, it became a turnoff. Turns out that being gay is only one part of who he is. And in this regard inclusivity is surface-level.
What the three agree on is that the best ads start with ideas, not execution, and that a lot of ads are starting to look like “let’s use X group in our ad,” which is where it begins and ends. There is no idea.
Cheerios itself is secondary to the drive for inclusiveness which becomes ever more forced as the song goes on. But the underlying subtext is that these categories are as easily disposable as they are replaceable. And of course, the real drive is to make a coveted Super Bowl spot, although it could have just as easily been the drive to win a lion at Cannes.
That’s what makes Inclusive Musical so interesting. Unlike a lot of work today that is all execution, no idea, this started with an idea. There’s a lot of attention to detail. It’s funny. And — here’s the kicker — you actually want to watch it more than once. Remember when ads were like that?
The response to the Interracial Couple In A Cheerios Ad was largely positive, so much so that the pair plan on making another one and are asking people to vote on whether it should be "Pride Month's A Comin" -- "New Black Lesbian Hire" or "You’re Absolutely Right But You’re White.”