For at least eight decades, the General Mills cereal brand has been known for showcasing the latest and hottest athletes to represent multiple sporting events on the front of their boxes. Just recently, an Olympic diving champion named Greg Louganis has been reported to be getting his turn on the front of the famous Wheaties Box for his accomplishments and gold medals that he earned in 1985. Given that society has changed its tune a little bit and evolved into a more open minded community, Louganis believes that his chance to represent the cereal brand was delayed due to the fact that he is a homosexual man, and that was a taboo topic during the 80s.
This lead to the question of how exactly General Mills chooses an athlete to have their image on the front of one of their boxes. Over the years there have been several gold medalists that participated in many different Olympic sports, yet it seems that only a select few actually get the opportunity. An HBS professor named Anita Elberse who has studied the strategies of marketing decisions for companies believes that they often opt to choose a person who does not have much reputational risk. For example, Mary Lou Retton was a champion ice skater who was still a teenager and was a great example for other young people. Whereas equally qualified athletes like Louganis who might be gay, could possibly deter customers from buying the product since society was very critical of that lifestyle during that time period.
At the end of the day, it seems that General Mills is trying to roll with the times and please its customers by choosing faces that society would openly accept all around. Since there were much different standards back in the 80s, it’s a great thing that we’re more open minded these days to include other athletes who live their lives a little differently.