Marketer's Brief: Kellogg Accused of Racist Corn Pops Packaging

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Welcome to the latest edition of Marketer's Brief, a quick take on marketing news, moves and trends from Ad Age's reporters and editors. Send tips/suggestions to [email protected]

In the latest how-did-they-not-catch-this marketing blunder, Kellogg is on the defensive for an ill-conceived cereal box design that some observers are calling racist. The Corn Pops mistake leads today's Brief, which also has news on Coke's state-themed cola play and a new coffee marketed for people and their dogs. Bark, or barf?

How did this happen?
Games and drawings on the backs of cereal boxes are meant to be a fun diversion. But when novelist Saladin Ahmed saw a box of Corn Pops, the darker coloring of a Corn Pop character stood out. The box depicts a mall scene filled with cartoonish Corn Pop characters, with instructions for activities such as spotting differences between certain ones.

KelloggsUS cereal box
KelloggsUS cereal box  Credit: via Saladin Ahmed/Twitter

The thing is, all the Corn Pop characters appear to have the same yellow-ish hue except for a darker one who is pushing a machine to clean or buff the floor. Ahmed took the marketer to task on Twitter.

Kellogg responded via its @KelloggsUS twitter handle on Tuesday, saying "Kellogg is committed to diversity & inclusion. We did not intend to offend – we apologize. The artwork is updated & will be in stores soon." (It also issued a statement with a similar message.) Ahmed, who is currently writing the Black Bolt series for Marvel Comics, responded that he "genuinely" appreciated the rapid response. Later, Ahmed summed up the issue (and perhaps the entire year in marketing and politics) in another tweet:

Of course, it begs the question how the image got onto the boxes in the first place. Corn Pops is clearly not the only brand to be put on the defensive against charges that its marketing is racially tone-deaf. Dove, anyone? And who could forget Pepsi and Kendall Jenner. Consumer packaged-good marketers are known for research rigor, but clearly something is amiss these days.

Coca-Cola California Raspberry
Coca-Cola California Raspberry Credit: Coca-Cola

Have a Coke, and Georgia peach?
As it pursues the burgeoning craft and specialty soda segment, PepsiCo has ventured beyond its flagship Pepsi-Cola brand name with offerings such as Stubborn Soda and Caleb's Kola. But Coca-Cola Co. appears to be taking a different approach in the segment, as evidenced by two new sodas that stick with the Coke trademark. Launching in March are Coca-Cola Georgia Peach and Coca-Cola California Raspberry. The state-branded, fruit-flavored sodas are made with cane sugar and packaged in 12-ounce glass bottles. This type of attempted localization of a global brand is reminiscent Budweiser's recent move to slap state names on bottles of Bud.

Sears bottoms out on Whirlpool
And another one bites the dust. After a century, Sears and Whirlpool are calling it quits. The struggling retailer will no longer sell Whirlpool products, including those under brands such as KitchenAid and Maytag. Earlier this year, Sears peddled its Craftsman tools line to Stanley Black & Decker, ending decades of exclusivity. Lowe's is now also carrying the Craftsman line. Meanwhile, Sears is selling its Kenmore collection via Amazon and has put VR assistant Alexa in Kenmore appliances in another example of joining them when you can't beat them.

The horror! Even plumbing fixtures get spooky ads
Marketers seemingly can't get enough horror ads of late, like those Mars "Bite Size Horror" mini-films. Why should plumbing be different? Clog preventer Drain Strain now has a nearly 7-minute horror infomercial. Spoiler alert: The undead have the same drain-clog issues as everyone else, which also can be solved in under a minute. Drain Strain already has gotten support thanks to "Shark Tank," and is using the horror video to fuel an Indiegogo push.

A cure for health insurance headaches?
For any consumers who have ever had difficulty navigating the choppy waters of health insurance (so, everyone), ZocDoc, the online doctor finding service, now has an Insurance Checker, which allows patients to find insurance plans and get plan details before they book. The checker uses artificial intelligence in the Zocdoc app to match details on physical insurance cards with plan information when patients scan a card image to their smartphone. Zocdoc is also offering a more universal insurance card template for insurers that has all the information for patients made more easily decipherable, the company said. The company collaborated with agency Office of Baby on a video to explain the new offerings.

Rooffee Credit: Rooffee

Would You Buy This?
Back when humorless retail buyers and brand managers at giant consumer-goods behemoths controlled what made it to market, something like this might never have happened. Thanks to Kickstarter, we now have the first coffee in the world suitable for dogs and their owners: Rooffee. It's not caffeinated, but rather a natural source of nutrients extracted from Nordic wild roots. Learn more here.

Number of the Week
18.5 percent: The growth in craft spirits sales last year to nearly 6 million cases, according to new data from the American Craft Spirits Association, which notes that crafts have reached 3.8 percent in dollar market share.

Tweet of Week

After six months without a full-time president of its North America business, Mondelēz International has tapped an outsider for the role. Glen Walter will join the snack maker next month as executive VP and president, North America, after most recently serving as CEO of Coca-Cola Industries China since 2014. His prior work also included serving as president and chief operating officer of the soft-drink maker's North America business. Tim Cofer had been leading the North American business on an interim basis since April, when Mondelez announced Roberto Marques was leaving the company. Cofer will now return to his chief growth officer role full time. And, as previously announced, Dirk Van de Put joins next month as CEO.

Contributing: E.J. Schultz, Jack Neff, Adrianne Pasquarelli, Jessica Wohl

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