“No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will. Honey Maid. Everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family. This is wholesome.” It is difficult to believe that it was that rather innocuous video commercial narration which has galvanized a nation. The visuals which accompanied this voiceover were not of yummy graham crackers but of unorthodox families: a two-dad family, a rocker family, a single dad, and two interracial families. Social media exploded over this ad with countless thousands of comments ardently defending the content and many others excoriating it. Honey Maid’s amazing reaction to this social media tempest can act as a lesson to all online marketers as to how to weather the storm… even if you’ve just created it.

Ultraconservatives had claimed the term Unwholesome

Honey Maid’s ad is certainly not the first commercial ever to feature gay or interracial families, but the key to the entire controversy is its repeated insistence that “this is wholesome.” That is the kind of term which is usually bandied around by the fundamentalist extreme right wing in conjunction with traditional family values which in many cases is restricted to a man and a woman of the same race having children. In order to rationalize some measure of intolerance against these new types of family structures, the ultraconservative faction has long claimed that they are against the rule of nature and therefore are “unwholesome.”

The mother of all flaming wars

So here comes Honey Maid whose business is not social engineering but manufacturing graham crackers and throws the entire “unwholesome” term right back in the face of the people who would restrict these different types of family nucleuses. While the majority of Americans are in favor of gay and interracial family groupings, the extremely vocal minority came out with all guns blazing and the mother of all flaming wars began on Honey Maid’s social media presences as well as on blogs and forums across the net.

A follow-up video, not corporate platitudes

However, Honey Maid did not restrict itself to letting the conflagration play out on social media with the occasional corporate platitude thrown in as is the usual modus operandi of online businesses. The company decided to drive its point home even further by creating and releasing a follow up video where artists take each contrarian comment, roll it into a tube, and create a floor sculpture which spells out a cursive and flowing LOVE. As the voiceover of this second spot describes how “the best part was all the positive messages we received. Over ten times as many…. Proving that only one thing really matters when it comes to family… Love” we are left with the powerful impression that Honey Maid was able to trump the haters and the flamers.

Millions of dollars of free exposure

It may seem that this was a magnificent reaction to a situation which faces many online brands as there are certainly no dearth of controversies out there. Personally I prefer to look at that second video as not so much a reaction but a planned implementation. It would have been clear to everyone at Honey Maid’s advertising agency when the original video was on the drawing boards that it would have drawn massive vitriol from certain quarters. The second LOVE ad was the perfect reply to the online hate and placed the company in an online light equivalent with sainthood in the eyes of the majority of its audience… along with exposure and promotion that millions of ad dollars couldn’t buy.

It is disingenuous to believe that in this age of constant consumer sentiment tracking Honey Maid produced a gollygeewhillikers video and then was driven by pure altruism to show that “all you need is love.” Call me an old curmudgeon but to me it’s clear that both videos were conceived in unison as the result of some wise online marketers who understand the value of sparking a controversy just so their brand can come out of it smelling like a rose. The question as it relates to your brand becomes: Is that essentially free massive promotional exposure something worth emulating?