Liking a Brand Enough That You’ll Never Sue Them

Cheerios Necklace
(Photo from My Natural Family.)

Early Wednesday morning, sitting above my cereal bowl — full of oats most likely toasted by General Mills — I read that clicking the Like button on the Facebook page of my favorite brands might abdicate my right to sue the company if it later does something that causes me harm. From the New York Times:

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

In fact, consumers may not even need to hit the Like button to give up their right to sue:

In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.

This is hard for me to get my head around. Obviously a brand doesn’t make a move like that with the intention of delighting its customers. (It’s Friday, almost three days after the news broke, and it continues to dominate the conversation — none of it positive — on Twitter for #Cheerios.)

#Cheerios in Twitter

So why do it?

General Mills seems to have a gigantic number of happy customers who spent almost $18 billion on General Mills cereals and baking mixes last year, up seven percent from the year before. Do a lot of them end up suing the company in the end? I’m guessing they don’t. A chipped tooth here, or the occasional turd in a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, right? It’s not like they’re selling toxic, smokable chemicals or fire arms.

Which put a weird thought in my head. I froze mid bite, staring down a spoonful of milky breakfast flakes, and wondered: Do the lawyers at General Mills know something I don’t? Some secret poisonous ingredient we don’t know about yet?!

I mean why else would they go after their very best customers — the one who are befriending them in Facebook, and trumpeting their brands across social media? Baffling. Maybe the CMO was out sick the day they updated the privacy policy.

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