We set goals with the intention of improving our lives or our surroundings. We want to grow our businesses, improve our daily routines, or achieve a milestone. Sometimes the goals we set have a greater impact than we envision. When this happens we can step into the momentum or we can shy away from the opportunity.
Do you remember the Cheerios ad that first featured a mixed-race family? That first ad ran in May 2013 and sparked a large debate online due to the significant number of racially offensive comments from viewers on YouTube. General Mills initially pulled the commercial. (You can read more about the responses here: Cheerios ad with mixed-race family draws racist responses.) Their initial choice was to shy away from the moment.
In This Is Marketing, Seth Godin writes, “Marketing creates culture. Change the culture, change your world.” General Mills chose to cast a growing segment of the population for their commercial that was underrepresented in media. Their choice was bold, but they weren’t ready for the backlash, nor the momentum.
You may be surprised to learn that in January 2014 General Mills debuted a second commercial with the same biracial family during the Super Bowl.
What Shifted from May to January for General Mills?
- The website We are the 15 Percent launched
- There was also an outpouring of positive remarks on platforms like the Cheerios fan page on Facebook
- The commercial received high scores from measurement firms like Ace Metrix and Kontera
- Famous interracial couples praised the commercial
Change the culture, change the world.
A Crown of Beauty Exchanged for Ashes
There’s a phrase that many Christians use, “beauty from ashes” that comes from Isaiah 61. The full context of where this phrase comes from may be different than many realize. In The New International Version Isaiah 61 begins with the title “The Year of the Lord’s Favor”.
Isaiah tells the Israelites that strangers will farm their land and take their flocks. They will lose the things that have earthly value. But God will restore them. God tells the Israelites they won’t feel shame, rather they will receive a double portion of wealth. They will have their moment to change the culture. The question remains, will Israel be ready when the moment arrives?
Isaiah proclaims in 61:1-3 & 8-9:
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.Isaiah 61 NIV
Jeremiah Writes to Exiles
This isn’t the only time that God encourages the Israelites to thrive in difficult seasons. Jeremiah 29:11, another favorite verse of many, is written to Israel as they face seventy years in exile. When readers back up just one verse and begin reading in Jeremiah 29:10-14 the context of hope shifts completely.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)
We Can Thrive in Any Situation with God
General Mills had a hand in shifting the culture because they listened to the masses rather than the squeaky wheel. Their courage paved the way for other companies, print ads, movies, and TV shows to cast more people who represent minority populations. Each year shifts like this have the opportunity to cause tension and polarization or create unity. As Christians, we can engage in cultural conversations in a way that points people to God or to pushes them further away from him and from us.
I believe when we truly replace beauty for ashes when we point people to Jesus whether that’s through our actions, words, or by choosing to listen before responding.
We are Called to Reflect the Light of Christ
Your choice to carry out your job with integrity reflects the light of Christ and so does your choice to love all that God loves. That includes the people God loves. General Mills didn’t set out to change the culture. However, once they realized the momentum was building they stepped up rather than shying away. They quickly saw that culture was with them and they seized the moment to lead and remain a strong company even today.
In This Is Marketing Seth Godin writes, “Your goal is the change you seek to make in the world. Your goal is your shining light, the unwavering destination of your work.” Seth’s writing focuses on career and company goals. As Christians, we shouldn’t segment our lives when we look at opportunities to reflect the light of Christ to a dull and dark world. This certainly includes work goals. However, I can’t help but wonder how different our culture would be right now had the Church taken the opportunity to thrive back in 2013 and led rather than allowing General Mills to take the lead in ensuring minorities felt represented in media.