Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kraft Responds to My MilkBite Petition

Today I got a Facebook message from Kraft asking that I contact them so we could speak directly. I was excited. "Maybe they're going to listen," I thought to myself. This didn't last long. The message I received from them was nearly identical to the same pre-fabricated stuff they've been posting in response to the complaints on Facebook. Here it is in its entirety:
Dear Jane,
Thank you for your message. We want you to know that we have received and considered your comments regarding the KRAFT MILKBITE Brand advertising campaign, and have shared them with the appropriate contacts at our company. 
We truly value all of our consumers and take concerns like yours very seriously. We are sorry that the advertising upset you and want to assure you again that we did not mean to offend anyone, or in any way represent real human relationships. The sole purpose of the campaign is to demonstrate what makes KRAFT MILKBITE Bars (and therefore the fictional character of “Mel”) unique, which is the fact that they’re made with real milk and whole grain granola. Again, we want to assure you that any similarity to real life experiences was not intentional. 
We respect your right to express your opinions about the campaign and we want you to know that your comments have been received. We sincerely hope you will consider our position. 
Best Regards,Kraft Foods, Corporate Affairs Team

So, they pulled out the "Sorry you were offended" stand-by, which--as I'm sure you know--is not even remotely close to "Sorry we were offensive." They don't accept agency for the message, and they fail to address the problem, which is not that I'm upset (I'm a big girl. I'll get over it.), but that the messages they're sending are damaging. So, I responded:

Dear Kraft, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me directly.  
I believe that you didn't want to offend anyone with these ads, but the fact remains that they are offensive. It's not enough to simply say that you didn't mean them to be that way. Now that the offensive nature of this campaign has been brought to your attention, I feel that it is your responsibility to correct the problem. If you choose not to, that is of course your right, but it is my right as a consumer to continue to draw attention to the damaging messages you're sending, and that is a right I will be exercising.  
I do have two points from your letter that I want to address. You say that you did not mean to "in any way represent real human relationships." But that's the entire point of anthropomorphizing a food product, to make it relatable to human characteristics. Furthermore, your campaign shows Mel interacting with human beings (like when he's on a date or part of a book club). I find it completely ridiculous to claim that he's not supposed to represent human characteristics when he clearly does.  
Secondly, you say that Mel is supposed to represent the "unique" qualities of his ingredient combination. Fine. I understand that's the draw of the product, but why does Mel have to disparage his "mixed" identity? Why can't he embrace these diverse components of his background? If Mel is supposed to represent diversity, he represents that it is damaged, and that's the problem.  
Maybe these problematic messages are not intentional. I certainly hope they are not. But they are present, and they are harmful. I insist that you drastically alter this campaign. Until you do, I will continue to work to draw attention to this problem. I believe that there are many, many people who will find this offensive once they see all of the ads put together into a cohesive narrative. That's what I'm trying to do with my campaign: give people the opportunity to analyze the narrative as a whole. I'm sure some people will think these commercials are fine, but I do not, and I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to critically analyze this message.  
As you are aware, the Change.org petition asking you to stop sending these messages is growing quickly. In addition, the analysis I wrote of this review has received over 6000 page views. The longer you wait to truly address this problem instead of saying "we didn't mean to offend," the more this exposure will grow. 
I hope that you will choose to do the right thing and stop using these stereotypes in your ad campaign. 
Thank you for your time. 
The silver lining? This mean Kraft's listening. They see that we're motivated to make a change. They see that there is strength behind these complaints, and they want us to quietly go away.

And I'm not going to.

I truly believe that there are a lot of people out there who would rather see multiracial backgrounds portrayed in a positive light. I truly think that a lot of people will be offended when they see this campaign as a cohesive narrative. And I'm going to keep working to make sure that more people have a chance to see this campaign for what it is.

Related Links

Here's my original analysis of the MilkBite campaign.

Here's a follow-up discussing why media messages matter. 

Here's a follow-up regarding Kraft's initial response. 

Here's an update about our efforts to stop this campaign.

What you can do 

Sign the petition. If you already signed it, share it. 

Like our Facebook page "Kraft MilkBite: Say NO to #TragicMel"

Use the #TragicMel hashtag to tell @kraftfoods this campaign is unacceptable

Post on Kraft MilkBite's Facebook page to tell them what you think


  1. Your response was perfect. It was clear, specific, and forceful, but not combative or rude. I can't wait to see what Kraft does next.

  2. Agreed. We need to keep this going. This isn't your average campaign with racial undertones that could be missed. It's very overt and apparent to many just what they were TRYING to imply. One commercial may have been "excusable", but this is just too much to ignore. I think it's clear that there was some intention by someone who worked on this advertising campaign.

  3. Gosh, isn't it just so weird that they are portraying the "mixing" so negatively? It's not like they have to get rid of the whole "mel" series, just make him more positive about his roots! Wouldn't that be a more logical way to sell their product anyway?! So. Freaking. Weird.

  4. Great response! Couldn't have said it better myself and embarrassed that I didn't. Thanks for sticking with this!

  5. Yes! Awesome response! Thanks for keeping us all in the loop on this.

  6. Thank you, everyone! I don't want to feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but I also don't want to draw attention to their brand and then quietly fade away because that will just help their campaign. I truly think this campaign is reprehensible, and I'm determined to stick with it until I get a more substantial response.

  7. Jane-
    Here is the ad agency responsible for the campaign. http://www.droga5.com/#/contact
    It would be interesting to see what they have to say about it.

  8. Wow. Really wow people. You certainly have a ton of issues relating yourselves to a puppet.