QUEER VOICES

Here's The Story Behind That Beautiful New Pro-LGBT Honey Maid Ad

The latest in the "Let Love Define Family" series.

As television news stations interrupt their continuing coverage of this strange political season to turn attention to the latest rash of anti-LGBTQ state legislature that is being rushed through southern states, it may be more heartening to pay attention to what is happening during the commercial breaks.

It is certain that we are living in unusual times. In fact, there are a few select large corporations who are boldly creating and promoting hybrid advertising that blends a presentation of product with a social consciousness that is possibly worthy of its own federal legislature. Such is the case of the new “This is Wholesome” campaign launched last week by Honey Maid, a division of Mondeléz International.

In the collection of four 30-second Honey Maid spots, the one with the Spanish title of “Mis Hijos” (My Sons), below, caught us by surprise as it features one of our own RaiseAChild families of Scott Sparks and Wilber Rubio. Below RaiseAChild CEO and founder Rich Valenza speaks with Sparks and Rubio and several other people involved with the Honey Maid ad about their experiences.

Rich Valenza: So how did this happen? How did Honey Maid find you for this spot?

Scott Sparks: Actually, we got recruited from a previous Huffpost Queer Voices / RaiseAChild “Let Love Define Family®” series interview that you guys did back when we first adopted our children from L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services a few years back.

Rich: Really?

Scott: Yes. Initially we got a call from a casting person who read our interview and was looking for a mixed race adoptive family for large electronics conglomerate. We went through the whole interview process but, ultimately, another family was chosen. Still, the casting director seemed to have an affinity for us and she remembered us for this project. That’s how it happened. 

Rich: So, how closely does the storyline of the commercial tell the real story of Wilber’s relationship with his father?

Scott: It all happened completely organically. The creative director said to us, “We don’t have a script. We don’t have a storyline we are looking for. We just want to hear your story.”

They asked Wilber’s dad to write a letter, expressing his own experience of us becoming a family. They asked him to write about his relationship with Wilber.

Wilber Rubio: Growing up, my father and I didn’t actually have a very close relationship. As I got older, I reached out more and he reached out more to me. The real turning point in our relationship was because of our kids. Our children made us more close. My father is evangelical and I remember when I first told him, “Hey we’re going to adopt, are you OK with the kids calling you grandpa?” He paused and then he said, “Of course. It’s not their fault.”

Wilber laughed.

When the kids actually came in the picture, he was just really proud. Our son, Giovanni, has green eyes just like my father does. Dad took our kids to church and said, “These are my grandchildren, he looks just like me!” He was extremely proud. That changed our whole relationship. 

Given the chance to speak with Katrina Plummer, the Equity Brand Manager of Honey Maid, I had to say, “you all must be proud of this new campaign.”

Katrina Plummer: We are. It is the third year of our “This is Wholesome” campaign. The cornerstone of that campaign has been to acknowledge the diverse fabric of American families. Honey Maid has a very long heritage as a 90-year old brand. We’re always looking to evolve our product and our messaging to remain relevant. We also feel it’s important to reflect our own consumers in our advertising. This year, we went one step further to showcase how acceptance can foster love and friendship within families and neighbors. If you think about that moment of acceptance, it’s a real emotional, beautiful moment that we wanted to show. What is great about our campaign is that we feature real families and their real stories. We’re actually showcasing their very real and authentic moments of acceptance that they’ve experienced in their lives.

Rich: Have you seen that these campaigns have helped with sales of Honey Maid? 

Katrina: Yes, we have. Our sales have risen since the “This is Wholesome” campaign came out on Honey Maid crackers. At the same time, we are telling these beautiful stories. Which is the best of both worlds. 

Rich: So are the other brands at Mondeléz International looking at your success and thinking we should be doing similar campaigns with heart and a social conscious? 

Katrina: I am absolutely having many conversations with my colleagues at sister brands who want to know how we got to where we are. I think that it’s really rooted, as all advertising should be, in our consumer. I would say even beyond just Mondeléz International, we see it in consumer marketing in general. It is great to see we’re not the only brand that’s talking about the diversity of American families.

When I asked Katrina if she created the campaign, she humbly directed me to Kevin Brady, the Group Creative Director of Droga5 New York.

Kevin Brady: A few years ago, our agency received a new brief from Honey Maid, and the new brief was WHOLESOME. A lot of times a creative team would go towards something with a lot of grains in the shot, or wheat fields, or nice ingredients and stuff like that. But our agency really mulled this over. One night, after work, I was actually in a park in the East Village with my young daughter. I’m sitting in the park and I’m looking around at all the families. In Manhattan’s East Village, of course, it is a very diverse part of the city. There was a lesbian couple with their 2-year-old really and completely adorable. There was a mother and father with their 3 year-old. Mom and dad were super tattooed up. I’m talking face tattoos and all. Still, these were very typical parenting moments. Then, it hit me. “This is wholesome. This is what it’s about. It’s not one brand of wholesome or one type of wholesome." That was a little bit of a eureka moment. Honey Maid is a product that a lot of people grew up with. But, in that time, families have changed, at least in appearance. But just because they may look a little different does not mean they are any less wholesome at all. That became the mantra for the whole campaign.

Rich: In the three years, are you concerned with those groups around the country that may not accept your inclusive kind of messaging?

Kevin: Luckily our client has been pretty brave about it all. When we received negative responses, we did the “Love” response video.

Rich: So, was Honey Maid one of the first brands with whom your ad agency was able to take this kind of stance and be creative in this respect?

Kevin: One hundred percent. It was certainly the first for us. It’s not the very first for advertising, but it was close to it.

After all of this talk, I was still curious to get to the heart of Scott and Wilber’s spot that moved me in the first place. I called Wilber again to ask a little more about his relationship with his father.

Rich: What has this commercial experience done for your relationship with your father?

Wilber: I really didn’t think he was going to do it, to be honest with you. They asked me, “Do you think your dad will do it?” I said, “I don’t know.” I asked him and he said, “OK” and he did it. So, to answer your question, it was almost therapeutic for me. Because I’ve never heard him actually say those things.

Rich: You mean, you’ve never heard him express his feelings toward you like this?

Wilber: When they did the voiceover with my dad, we weren’t in the room. It was just him and the producers. Growing up, my dad never expressed his feelings, but he always showed acceptance. So when we finally saw the finished spot, that was the first time I actually heard my father say those things. Even now, it is difficult to express how very moving that moment was.

Have you ever thought of building a family through fostering, adopting, or weekend hosting? RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US or call us at (323) 417-1440.

Join RaiseAChild for a very special National Foster Care Awareness Month Celebration in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 1, 2016 to benefit RaiseAChild and our partner agencies including Penny Lane Centers, Adoptions at Vista Del Mar, The Village Family Services, and Walden Family Services. More information is available at http://honors.preclickbid.com or by calling (323) 417-1440.