"Hi, Punkin'," the guy says. "It's late. You should be asleep."
"Mommy said that I could stay up until you got home," she replies.
"Oh," says Dad.
"Whatcha eatin'?" she asks, and, no use trying to hide the obvious. He is caught.
"Cheerios," he says.
"For dinner?" the child wants to know, and no wonder. People don't eat Cheerios for dinner. At least, not comfortably middle-class people like these.
"They taste just as good at night," Dad says. "And remember I told you they were good for my cholesterol?"
"Oh yeah," the kid says.
Yes, she actually remembers the conversation, because he is that kind of dad, lulling his daughter gently to sleep not with "Good Night, Moon" but instead with "Goodbye, Low-Density Lipoproteins." But just in case she's forgotten the ABCs of blood-lipid control, the voice-over comes on with the specifics:
"An important study [funded, the voice doesn't bother to mention, by General Mills] shows that 3 cups of Cheerios whole grain oats a day, added to a low-fat diet, can help push your cholesterol down." By about 4%, an onscreen super further reports. But back to the little slice of dietary life:
"You know what else is good for my heart?" Dad asks.
"Uh-uh," Punkin' replies.
"A hug from you!"
Awwwwww. A hug! Isn't that just the sweetest thing? But it also gets to why this commercial -- and this strategy for increasing Cheerios consumption -- strikes such a raw nerve. This guy likes hugging his daughter, but he doesn't wake her up at 3 a.m. to do it, does he? He doesn't barge into her second-grade classroom, hug her and leave, does he? No, because that would be wrong.
Some things are just plain wrong. Murder. Bestiality. The designated hitter rule. They simply are not in God's plan.
And Cheerios for dinner isn't, either.
Let's put aside the nutritional illogic of the claim by General Mills and Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. Never mind that 3 cups of Cheerios is just too much toasted whole-oat goodness for one person to stomach every single day, especially for such a modest serum-cholesterol reduction. Never mind that eating Cheerios for dinner might result in a certain dietary shortfall elsewhere. ("Hi, Punkin'! Daddy's cholesterol is down 4.3%. Oh, and I have scurvy!")
Let's just think of this as a lifestyle issue -- to wit: If you're eating three bowls of Cheerios for dinner, your life has no style. Even if you're actually extending your life span, what would be the point? You're eating Cheerios for dinner, for crying out loud. There is life, and there is quality of life. Extending it with cold cereal is like saving, saving, saving money you never get to spend.
So there, it's settled. Cheerios for dinner may be healthier than a Whopper for breakfast, but just as unconscionable. And yet, this is not terrible advertising.
In all its unsettling perversity, this message undeniably gets across that the product is healthful (in a low-fat diet, tax and tags extra, batteries not included). To see this commercial is to say: "Cheerios for dinner? What a ludicrous proposition. Never! But for breakfast . . .