This is not an article where I comment, rant, or proselytize about the values portrayed in the Honey Maid "This is Wholesome" campaign. The web is full of passionate shares, snipes, and cheers already.
Rather, I'm interested in the business of the ads. "Wholesome" falls squarely into a category that I'll call "rebel marketing." Take topics that some would consider controversial – and which may have even been full-fledged taboo not so long ago – and look them square in the eye and embrace them. Dare, even, elevate them to a higher value.
Honey Maid, whose parent company is Mondelēz International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), released a spot for graham snacks that celebrates the concept of family, including single, gay, and interracial parents. The treatment was matter of fact, (read: "this is normal"), and the theme, "This is Wholesome," applied, of course to both graham crackers and families.
Not surprisingly, the campaign ignited a social media firestorm, including a call for angry emails by One Million Moms, a self-proclaimed conservative hub.
Honey Maid, in turn, responded to the detractors with an emotional and elegantly crafted response that is on fire across social media. The original spot has garnered over 5 million views on YouTube, while the response has crossed the 3 million mark.
For a brand that had previously been floundering in its social media presence, this is social media gold: millions of viewers who have not only seen an ad, but who can also presume to have been quite engaged when they watched it.
Taking a stand is in
Honey Maid's approach follows a pattern not at all unlike two notable 2014 SuperBowl ads – albeit each with a distinctly different point of view.
Coca-Cola's (NYSE:KO) "America is Beautiful" campaign kicked off at the annual ad-fest and stirred all kinds of emotions by its sentimental homage to American diversity. (Personally, I was thrilled they included the rhythm tap dancers, whose art form is often not well understood.... But I digress.) Meanwhile, GM (NYSE:GM) stirred an anger storm with its Cadillac "Poolside" commercial, which many thought portrayed an uncomfortable "ugly American" sentiment, an intention the advertiser has denied.
Both generated oodles of buzz, though Coke beat Cadillac handily in YouTube views -- "America is Beautiful" has scored over 11 million views versus "Poolside" with 1.7 million.
Perhaps, then, the formula for this social media gold is not just stirring emotions. It may be that it must also spark conversation, (the conversation for Cadillac's ad may have stopped for many at "Yuck!"), and a strong enough emotion to excite viewers and sharers.
The recipe Honey Maid and Coke followed would be: (1) display a strong and emotion-provoking point of view, then, (2) stand back as social media ripples become tsunamis. Every view, share, and comment becomes engagement. Engagement boosts brand loyalty and, the advertiser hopes, sales.
Yes, but are we being manipulated?
Honey Maid issued "This is Wholesome" on March 10 and its response to detractors by April 3. While the story has played out across social media as Honey Maid's brilliant response to a punch in the eye, we have to assume that public reaction was well researched and that perhaps, even, the second ad was "in the can" before the first ad even hit. At the very least the response had already been planned.
Does this mean our social media behavior is being manipulated? Well, of course. After all, advertising is manipulation.
Does this make it bad? It all depends upon your point of view. Time and again, we have seen that when popular media "normalizes" ideas that were once taboo, stigmas fall and fall fast. Add the potent catalyzer, social media, to this formula, and change can be swift. Look how quickly marriage equality has moved from a political battleground to a "Why are we still talking about this?" type of issue.
So if you agree with Honey Maid, that "This is Wholesome," then it is very good. If you disagree, the campaign is seriously threatening. If Honey Maid's response is to be believed, 90% of people who contacted them about the ad supported the brand's point of view. And that could mean a serious boost to brand loyalty.
And that's something any company would love.