Aunt Jemima Has Been Canceled
A brand dating back to 1889 is being retired.
While hardly the biggest news of the day, the renaming of an iconic breakfast staple will surely be the longest-remembered.
NBC News (“Aunt Jemima brand to change name, remove image that Quaker says is ‘based on a racial stereotype‘”):
The Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and image, Quaker Oats announced Wednesday, saying the company recognizes that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”
The 130-year-old brand features a Black woman named Aunt Jemima, who was originally dressed as a minstrel character.
The picture has changed over time, and in recent years Quaker removed the “mammy” kerchief from the character to blunt growing criticism that the brand perpetuated a racist stereotype that dated to the days of slavery. 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.”
Kroepfl said the company has worked to “update” the brand to be “appropriate and respectful” but it realized the changes were insufficient.
Aunt Jemima has faced renewed criticism recently amid protests across the nation and around the world sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
People on social media called out the brand for continuing to use the image and discussed its racist history, with the topic trending on Twitter.
It’s frankly shocking that the brand has survived this long. Attempts to modernize the face of the brand were never going to be enough to overcome the obvious stereotyping and origins of the product name itself.
While the name of a pancake syrup seems a trivial focus in the midst of national protests over police officers killing unarmed black men so often that we can’t remember all of the names, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has capitalized on the opportunity to focus on all manner of outdated symbols, including statues and monuments to Confederate leaders.
From a sheer marketing standpoint, I’m hard-pressed to think of a bigger branding switch. Datsun’s slow transformation into Nissan comes to mind, as does the various spinoffs associated with the (relatively short-lived*) breakup of the Bell telephone monopoly.
It’ll take a careful effort to inform Aunt Jemima loyalists of the new name and packaging in a way that doesn’t further the damage associated with the old iconography. Offhand, leaning into the rationale for the change would seem the best approach.
And, yes, Uncle Ben (no relation) is next.
*Parent company AT&T would eventually be bought out by one of the spin-off Baby Bells, the former Southwestern Bell (SBC), which would reclaim the AT&T brand and then proceed to buy up many of the other Baby Bells—all in the span of 22 years. Verizon owns a couple of the other Baby Bells, so the reconstitution is not complete.