Aunt Jemima Rebranding Is Long Overdue

Aunt Jemima Rebranding Is Long Overdue

Aunt Jemima Rebranding Is Long Overdue

Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of Pepsico, has announced that the company will rebrand the Aunt Jemima line of products and remove the picture of the black woman from packaging. This move, while in response to current racial tensions, is a move that is long overdue.

First things first, I have not joined Black Lives Matters, gone full Karen Social Justice Warrior, or begun drinking soy. My first thought when I read the announcement that Pepsico had decided to change a 131 year old brand was, “Oh hale no.” Companies guard successful brands zealously. Aunt Jemima is the number one selling syrup in the United States. What kind of corporate morons would mess with that? I thought this was yet another case of corporations caving to the mob. Then, I read the history of the brand.

Begun as a self-rising flour (#ToniCannotBake, so I have no idea), two entrepreneurs bought a mill and named the product after a minstrel show song, “Old Aunt Jemima”, written by a black man. They hired Nancy Green, a cook and storyteller to portray Aunt Jemima at the Chicago World’s Fair. Mrs. Green was a hit with the fairgoers.

In the book “Mammy; A Century of Race, Gender and Southern Memory”, published twelve years ago, Kimberly Wallace-Sanders wrote:

In six chronological chapters Wallace-Sanders reveals that the mammy is a multifarious figure, a woman who is much more than her two dimensional “Aunt Jemima” stereotype or a literary character.

So, my question is where the heck have Quaker Oats and Pepsico been for the last decade? I know for a fact that there are people of color at Quaker and Pepsi. Did no one raise their little, pudgy hand and say, “Excuse me, our brand imagery might be promulgating ugly, racist stereotypes.” Making the Aunt Jemima likeness look more like Betty Crocker doesn’t change the history.

The Pascal Show got educated yesterday:

Mr. Pascal can be forgiven for not knowing the brand history. The brand managers at Quaker Oats cannot. I only knew to look for the story because I was a business and marketing major.

This is nothing like baseball teams with Aboriginal names. Those names connote strength and bravery. This is nothing like the idiot band Lady Antebellum changing their name. Antebellum means before the war. That is all. No, the Aunt Jemima brand was selling a stereotype.

So, Quaker Oats/Pepsico came to the table late with this announcement:

But Quaker, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, said removing the image and name is part of an effort by the company “to make progress toward racial equality.”

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a press release. “As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”

NOW you recognize. Just please stop.

To be absolved, in their own guilty conscience’s, of their corporate sins of commission and omission:

The company also announced it will donate at least $5 million over the next five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”

First of all, $5 million is a corporate rounding error. Second, the money comes off as either paying extortion or “go away” money. I could argue it both ways. I could also argue that “meaningful, ongoing support and engagement” could be done for free. Like, I don’t know, being sincere and actually caring.

It would be helpful if, instead of just cashing the check, the corporate and brand types knew their brand histories. But, again, that would require sincerity and a soul. Shame on Pepsico and Quaker Oats.

I hope I have made clear that I am not a Karen or a Becky. Just a history buff with a marketing background. I am making a ham sandwich for lunch. No sprouts or soy mayonnaise substitute.

Featured Image: Mike Mozart/Flickr.com/cropped/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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27 Comments
  • Johnny says:

    Wow – I had no idea I was promulgating a stereotype by purchasing Aunt Jemima syrup.
    I thought it was just good syrup.
    Of course, Pepsico is a private company and they can call their brands whatever they want.
    I have no issue with whatever they decide to re-name Aunt Jemima as.
    I am, however going to hesitate before I purchase any product where some of my cash in going to be deliberately targeted to benefiting one group based solely on their skin color. Isn’t that what racism is supposed to be about?

    How about a suggested replacement name?
    Show a picture on the bottle of the CEO of Pepsico, with the product name changed to “Black Pander”

  • GWB says:

    Sorry, but it was never problematic (no more that GWTW or anything else like it). They’ve caved several times over the years, in fits and starts.

    The main thing I want them to know is that they are NOT providing marginal benefit to their company or brand. And that most of us really don’t want our products to virtue signal their social justice bona fides. It is more likely to hurt than to help.

    Honestly? I couldn’t care less if they get burned out by the mobs. This crap is what makes us “go Galt.”

    • Toni Williams says:

      GWB-
      I am about five minutes from Going Galt. I have no issue with Uncle Ben’s or most of the other products. Aunt Jemima has been a slur for year, so this one bothered me.

      TW

  • Kate says:

    Recognizing her great expertise in Marketing, I will still gently disagree with my dear friend and colleague, Toni, here.

    Nancy Green, the original model for Jemima, was born into slavery, freed, and her long career allowed her to put two sons through college. One became a doctor, one a lawyer and eventually a judge.

    She was active in her church, helped the impoverished, a great cook and an all around lovely human being.

    Today’s Cancel Culture just deleted a highly successful former slave from the company she helped grow to its current stature, all because modern depictions of her supposedly upset people. That’s it. End of story.

    • GWB says:

      a great cook
      And that is really the only thing we need to know about her for this whole kerfuffle. THAT is what was sold on the label of “Aunt Jemima” – good cooking.
      (The rest of it is a pretty cool story, though, and should be inspiring to people of all colors and dangly bits and dangly bit preferences.)

    • Toni Williams says:

      Nancy Green was a woman of her time. Her work with Mount Olivet Church is historic. That being said, the phrase Aunt Jemima is problematic from a brand standpoint. I would have changed it in the 70’s except I was in grade school. lol

      TW

      • Kate says:

        Toni
        We’re talking 2 separate issues. You’re talking brand — of which I give you a nod to marketing expertise. But I am talking heart, which is the pinnacle of persuasive buying power. Instead of scrubbing Aunt Jemima, the marketing and branding change should have included the amazingly successful life story of the former slave who became one of our country’s first black millionaires. Just a thought.

        • Tess Alexander-Brunson says:

          Nancy Green was not a millionaire. This was not her brand. She was hired as a model, storyteller, and she served pancakes. Yes, she later became an activist against poverty.

          • Kate says:

            Tess,
            Yes, I believe you’re right. I can’t find solid, collaborating info on the “millionaire” part of the story. Thanks!

    • Toastrider says:

      You mean, kind of like how Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar winning role just went down the memory hole — because it was in Gone With The Wind?

  • Politically Ambidextrous says:

    The only answer is to bring back the 1970’s generic packaging! Only by doing this can we make certain that nobody can be offended by a) the image associated with the brand, b) the brand name, c) the colors used in the packaging, or d) any aspect of the brand, it’s history, or it’s owners’ or suppliers’ history or their ancestors’ history.

    Land of Lakes (already ‘fixed’ – someone commented ‘how typical – they got rid of the Native American but kept the land’), Uncle Ben (on deck after Aunt Jemima), Betty Crocker (why does it have to show a white woman cooking?), Chef Boyardee (are you saying women can’t be chefs?), Quaker Oats (religious propaganda?), Target (obviously sponsored by the NRA!), Big Boy Restaurants (a white male, and don’t make fun of the overweight), Coca Cola (started by a Confederate Army veteran), Paul Newman (was a 1% white male, and why not “all revenue to charity” instead of just merely profits?), Volkswagen (started as Nazi program for a “people’s car”). Heck, even the term brand indicates cruelty to animals is OK…

    When it comes to marketing materials, if you’re not offended, you’re just not trying hard enough.

  • DC says:

    Don’t forget Mrs. Butterworth…sigh
    If you want maple syrup, buy a product that actually says, “Maple syrup” –
    Log Cabin, Aunt Jemima etc. don’t.

  • Dale Carney says:

    I’m not referring to you, Toni, in my comment here. Your reasons are not based in outrage and, gratefully, you are rational in irrational times.

    Aunt Jemima’s marketers remade her image incrementally over the years and is now an attractive, happy, smiling, welcoming, black woman from who I’d gladly exchange my dough for hers. Much of the quality in our lives resides in how we perceive what is in our world.

    Seen as a negative stereotype it apparently offends some people. I’ve found though, that the offended are usually white people. I take issue with those who seem to live their lives in perpetual outrage over matters that impact others.

    I find it troubling that so many appear to spend much time seeking issues to be outraged, insulted, and offended and then cherishing and reveling in their roles as surrogate victims.

    Seeking and embracing the negative situations in life and society cannot be good mentally. Seeking, cherishing, appreciating, and sharing the enormous amounts of good in everyone’s life can only be beneficial.

    We should not be pollyanna-ish ostriches nor victimization seeking missiles of outrage. Rather we might better choose to be sensible people with a rational scale of common, mutually shared, societal wrongs and view them with perspective and common sense. Then eradicate the wrongs in non-devastating ways.

    Lastly, the name Jemima, found in the Bible, is the name of one of Job’s daughters and a valuable component of the great reward of restoration Job received for his steadfast desire to understand God. She was part of the good God returned to Job and evidence of His love for those who are faithful. Her name means “day by day.”

    Perhaps her name is a fitting example of one way we can accept the things in our lives with perspective, grace, and an appropriate avenue of correcting what is amiss in our world. How we see our world is always a choice.

  • Ampleforth says:

    Growing up in the South, I thought Aunt Jemima was a statement of fact. If I misbehaved at a neighbor’s house, they’d say, “I ain’t-ja mama, but I’ll whup ya and send ya home.”

    By the time I got back to my house Mom would be on the phone saying, “He did what? Well, one whippin’ ain’t enough.”

  • Bill Rudersdorf says:

    Very well, Aunt J. is retired, and I understand Uncle Ben as well. What about the jolly fellow who graces Cream of Wheat™ products? Is he due for a well-deserved retirement?
    And an investigation into Cane Patch syrup will show a deserved early re-branding.

  • GWB says:

    Personally, I think all of the Kellog’s and Post brands should be cancelled for practicing medicine without a license. After all, they were founded out of the insane health movement in the late 1800s that had people visiting “sanitariums” where they could get “colonics”, purge themselves several times a day, get injected with radium, and take “air baths” and such.

    After all, who needs 13 kinds of cereal?

  • Rick says:

    How about re-branding as Ain’t Gov Stacey, after the Abrams superstar?

    Cordially…

  • John says:

    Not so very long ago there was widespread dismay over the lack of black people portrayed in commercials.
    Now we’re protesting the portrayal of black people in commercials.
    Please alert me when social sanity returns.

  • Joe R. says:

    Aunt Jemima is a sad victim here. I like to think she (Ms. Green) would kick someone’s a** over this. I’d also like to posit that, the people pushing this aren’t going to stop until THEY GET RID OF BLACK PEOPLE because of their “connection to slavery”. IF THE NORTH DIDN’T WIN THE CIVIL WAR, they’d all be slaves. If Conservatives didn’t stand with “blacks” since the beginning of this nation, they would still be OWNED by the satan’s-suck POS (D), and that’s a fact.

    ONCE THE PURVEYORS OF SLAVERY [THE POS (D)] REMOVE ALL SYMBOLS OF SLAVERY, THEN THEY CAN START IT UP AGAIN, and it might take another hundred years to stop (or more if the good guys just give up on your stupid a**es).

    Either way, everyone has to fix their own problems. If you raise your kids that they need to make sure to “demand equality” THEN YOU HAVE TOLD YOUR KIDS THAT THEY ARE NOT EQUAL !!!

    Stereotypes might begin in ignorance, but they persist because too many people live up to them.

    “Equal” is equal, anything else isn’t” “Equality is the formula for sameness on either side of short, horizontal, parallel lines. It is, by itself, a formula that creates the same solution regardless of the direction of the calculation across it, and has its own Value apart from the things that are being equated.
    Equality, however, can only be achieved. It cannot be given or granted. Something is either equal to another or it can become equal to another. Something or someone cannot make something else its equal, nor does such a declaration make it so. Equal treatment can be attempted, but it cannot be exempt from bias, for this too is a request to be made equal. . . .Equality is, by argument, however, taken in whole-parts, and the push-back is 100%. Thereby, when the question of equality is raised, and the one side not found to be wholly equal
    (equal in all parts), then the ‘unequal’ party is rejected as wholly unequal [2]. , , , Requesting equality is equivalent to the coveting of something one does not have [to be equal]. It is the reliance on something else for substance, without which the being of the thing would be ethereally unattainable. Being equal is the quality of something temporally fleeting, the juxtaposition of two things vying for superiority, two horses neck and neck in the home
    stretch of a race. It is however, unburdened by the request of need from the other. Equality is acceptable, and however denied, does not long suffer ignorance without a usual shift in burden of
    the ‘quest for equality’.” [J.M.Thomas R., TERMS, 2012, pp 108-115]

  • Pepsi Co’s efforts are a fake as their syrup. For decades they were happy to keep the branding. Rebranding is costly and may not have a good outcome. Their motivation is in response to a culture shift. If they were truly bothered about the imagery or name (for many of their products) they would have done this years ago.

    For me, it’s about their sincerity. And I find it lacking. Therefore, they are pandering to what the marketing research indicates is a “move in the right direction.” Completely motivated by external drivers. They aren’t woke, they are concerned about their bottom line. Corporations don’t care about any color but the green. In this case, the optics allow for them to colorwash the change.
    But I have questions: Snarky, questions.
    Colonel Sanders- obviously dressed in pre-civil war attire.
    Popeye’s Chicken – is it racist that their spokesperson is a black woman? Doesn’t fried chicken have connotations when paired with black people? (ask Fuzzy Zeller).
    Ms. Butterworth- I always thought she was white. Her commercials in the 70’s portrayed her as a matronly white lady.
    Uncle Ben….
    Log Cabin- didn’t slaves live in log cabins?
    Keebler cookies- have we started addressing the little people community yet? or is that happening in 2030’s?
    This is a very slippery slope. And while I really don’t care what the annals of advertising do, they did singularly ruin St. Nick (thanks Coke!), it seems people are more concerned about what is on the bottle than what is IN the bottle.
    People should really be pissed that they are paying a premium for highly processed sugar water, laden with chemicals.
    Try Sorghum molasses, real Maple syrup (help those farmers!), or even melted brown sugar mixed with dark corn syrup. It will save you a ton of money, and tastes better. Also, Krusteze is far superior to any other boxed waffle or pancake mix.

    • GWB says:

      Log Cabin- didn’t slaves live in log cabins?
      More importantly, Abraham Lincoln lived in a log cabin! And we all know he’s problematinc now, because… ummm… it doesn’t matter why! He just IS! So we should absolutely cancel that Log Cabin stuff!

      I only do pancakes at Village Inn, anyway, so I get whatever brand of syrup they put in their pitchers in the kitchen. (BTW, you forgot honey in your list. A wonderful natural sweetener not requiring any further prep.)

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