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.