Honey Maid: This Is Wholesome

After General Mills capitalized on the massive success of a Cheerios ad that featured an interracial family, other family-friendly brands began to move past starring the typical nuclear family in their advertisements. Honey Maid crackers released such an ad in early March; the ad shows a variety of families and labels them all as being “wholesome.” It opens with two gay fathers taking care of their newborn baby, and moves to a punk-rock family having fun with their young daughter. Following that, we see a single father dressing his son, and a big multi-racial family walking down the street. The ad ties together all of these families as families who eat Honey Maid crackers – “everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family.”

According to Roland Barthes, we are able to use semiotics, the science of signs, in order to communicate. We understand signs as something that is conveyed through the set of rules that we establish via our culture and society. In this Honey Maid ad, the main sign is the word “wholesome,” upon which the entire campaign is established. The chains of signifiers within the ad are the different families that are portrayed, and they each signify a sense of being wholesome and complete – even though they are different. Culturally, families are typically expressed as having a mother, a father, and one or two children. This ad seeks to change the definition of a family, and simultaneously ties the graham cracker brand to the new definition. The voiceover in the ad states that “no matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will.” By changing the meanings and what is signified by the concept of family, the signifier is opened up to being many things. Each family shown is different in their own right, but ultimately, they are all families. The denotation of family is boiled down to its barebones definition: a social unit of people. The connotations associated with the word family are countless, and though this ad aims to reach all forms of modern families, they selected examples from the most common types of real-life families. The ultimate connotation that is presented by this ad is that families love each other, and are happy.

Furthermore, Honey Maid snacks are shown at various parts of the commercial. All families subsist on food, and in our society, food is often utilized as a measure of wealth or success. We are not shown explicit indicators of the socio-economic status of each of the families, but they are all depicted as being happy, particularly when their happy moments include a type of Honey Maid snack. This signifies that Honey Maid brand snacks are a means of making your family happy, and of keeping them “wholesome.” From the obvious associations of inclusivity to small touches like featuring an American flag, the advertisement overtly attaches the meaning of being wholesome to the product, and it promotes a progressive outlook. This provides an example of a commodity sign: the brand name, Honey Maid, is linked to the meaning of being wholesome, and is present throughout the entire campaign. It is interesting to note, however, the total absence of a stereotypically conjugal family. The exclusion of nuclear families implies that they may not be as “wholesome” anymore, whereas the newer family types that are shown are rendered as being the new normal version of “wholesome.” In a comment on their YouTube video, Honey Maid stated the following: “Today we celebrate all families. From working moms to two moms; stay at home dads to single dads; adopted kids to surrogate kids. Honey Maid recognizes that the reality of family has changed, but the wholesome connections that all families share will endure. #thisiswholesome.” Again, nuclear families are not mentioned.

In a manner of intertextuality, this advertisement is also a form of social commentary. The “age of accelerated meaning,” as defined by Goldman and Papson, saw a transition from product-focused ads to ads that focus on a specific image or lifestyle; there is added meaning and context, and that is evident in this ad as it promotes inclusivity and a progressive society. Goldman and Papson also state that advertising carries ideology through culture – rather than introducing ideologies that don’t exist, advertisements reproduce and perpetuate existing ideologies. Honey Maid is not creating the concept of modern families, but rather promoting an ideology of acceptance for the modern families. In order to carry ideology, ads socially and culturally construct a world, disguise and suppress inequalities and contradictions, promote a normative vision, and reflect the logic of capital. This commercial presents us with numerous families in the world, that are meant to be realistic and relatable; it does not show the typical nuclear family, or any negative moments or stigmas that come with being in one of their families; it implies that being in a non-nuclear household is normal; and it promotes spending on Honey Maid products. This ad appeals to a skeptical audience because it breaks away from the type of advertising that hopes to attract an audience based on the idea of perfection. Families play such an integral role in human identity, and there is social pressure to be the perfect family. Many companies portray only these idealized “perfect” families in their ads: white, with two heterosexual parents and one or two children. Honey Maid, on the other hand, is purposefully moving away from that type of advertising, and is changing the idea of what is “cool” or “perfect” in order to appeal to an audience of people who come from non-nuclear families. This ad is not targeted at youth, but serves as a cultural intermediary nonetheless. For parents and family members, this advertisement plays on authenticity to get to the alienated spectator. Families serve as an attractive market, as parents are required to provide for their children; however, there is social and cultural pressure to provide and exist in a certain manner. This ad says that being yourself, being authentic, and being happy as you are is alright; this voice reaches audiences that do not buy in to nuclear family marketing.

This Honey Maid advertisement has roots in the creative revolution in the 60’s. After Bill Bernbach gave power to the creative people, the industry changed in regards to both content and production. The idea that money would follow if the industry focused on creative content was a huge success, and opened the doors for a mass culture critique: skepticism about consumption, capitalism, and advertising. Though people are still consuming, they are more skeptical about their choices, and advertising responded with acknowledgment. The concept of “hip consumerism” said that if you have to consume, consume our product, because we get it. Honey Maid is a great example of that, as they tie in their snack products with the evolving idea of what constitutes a family. Families are unique, and Honey Maid gets that – while other companies do not. Prior to the creative revolution, Honey Maid snacks would have been advertised for their nutritional value, or low price, or another business-minded angle. The creative revolution allowed for a less formulaic approach in favour of a more artistic approach. This advertisement tells a range of smaller stories, a story about each family in only a few seconds, under the scope of one large goal: being wholesome.

– Natalie VJ


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