MINNEAPOLIS—In an unsettling attempt to increase brand visibility and broaden its demographic appeal, the General Mills corporation unveiled a new backstory for its iconic Honey Nut Cheerios bee character Monday, giving the cartoon insect a traumatic personal history of childhood abuse in a foster home.
Calling the psychologically intense new narrative a "fresh and interesting twist on a beloved character," General Mills said it would unveil a series of TV, web, and print ads relating, often in graphic detail, the Honey Nut Cheerios mascot's separation from his drug-addicted parents at a young age, as well as his near-constant emotional and physical suffering at the hands of a controlling, fundamentalist Christian foster father.
“Our customers have always loved [Honey Nut Cheerios mascot] BuzzBee, and we figured such an iconic character deserved a rich backstory that people would enjoy following along with,” said General Mills representative Gina Ripp, adding that the animated bee's cheerful appearance would remain the same, but would mask "deep inner turmoil stemming from the crucial early years of his personal development." “He still loves Honey Nut Cheerios, with its 12 essential vitamins and minerals, but now his love is complicated, perhaps fed, by the feelings of self-hatred he acquired as a ritually abused foster child in suburban Indiana."
In a commercial now airing nationally, the public gets its first glimpse of the reimagined mascot’s troubled past as he explains to a family that they should enjoy a breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios because sweet honey and oats are what he used to distract his mind with whenever his foster father, Ray, would make BuzzBee face the basement wall and receive lashes across his back and wings with a length of cable wire. The family in the commercial then eats the cereal, greatly improving the bee’s mood.
According to company reps, subsequent ads will contain details about BuzzBee's submissive foster mother's refusal to acknowledge the abuse, his first nonconsensual sexual experiences involving his imposing older foster brother Craig, the 3 grams of healthy soluble fiber in Honey Nut Cheerios, and his struggles with emotional and physical intimacy as an adult.
“We're planning to roll out his story with a series of ads over the next three years, which makes sense character-wise, because clearly someone this damaged would never vent his psychosexual wreckage all at once; he's too repressed,” Ripp said of the colorful cartoon bee used to advertise the honey-and-almond-flavored breakfast cereal. “Besides, I think people will look forward to a long journey of really getting to know him slowly over time."
"And it will really pay off when we reveal that BuzzBee started self-medicating heavily in high school," Ripp added.
The company also excitedly announced a series of new Honey Nut Cheerios box designs featuring stories and puzzles relating to the revamped character arc, including a maze game in which BuzzBee must escape to a classmate's hive on the other side of town when he fears his foster father is going to come home from work angry that night, as well as a word scramble in which one must find the "happy word" BuzzBee would tearfully whisper to himself whenever he heard his foster father's footsteps on the basement stairs.
So far, customer reaction to BuzzBee’s rebranding has been mixed. In a poll of consumers, a majority found the insect’s often wrenching biography to be odd and upsetting, while others were simply confused as to why a backstory was necessary at all.
"I guess I've always just eaten the cereal without really thinking about what the bee guy's backstory was,” Honey Nut Cheerios consumer Brandon Faulkner said. “If anything, I assumed he was just, like, a bee who liked honey or something, not whatever this weird new story is."
"But the cereal still tastes good,” Faulkner added.
At press time, General Mills confirmed it would take the same approach with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, explaining that the disappearance of the second and third chef mascots was a result of fratricide by the first.