24 September 2020
Brand renaming: Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima
Brand renaming is not as simple as it sounds. Consider the Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima brands. The names, loved by many, are changing in response to today’s greater racial sensitivity. But their owners are also losing well-known brands. Such is the dilemma.
Both iconic brands are racially insensitive. Feeding on outdated stereotypes. Offensive to many. Aunt Jemima in particular seems so. Her image recalls up images of slave housekeepers. Like Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy in Gone With the Wind.
So, its owner (Quaker Oats) announces it’ll retire the name.
In the same vein, Mars announces yesterday that Uncle Ben will simply become Ben’s Original.
Is it enough? No.
“Judging by yesterday’s reaction to the single Breonna Taylor charge, I’d say both have a lot of work to do in their brand renaming. They need to seek for greater meaning. Just changing the name isn’t enough.”
Brand renaming is only the beginning
I understand the action. But I am also struck by a Facebook post in reaction to it. A black female pastor wrote: “We didn’t ask you to remove Uncle Ben’s face. We asked to end police brutality.” She continues: “We asked for social justice. We asked for Breonna Taylor’s murderers to be tried. No one cares whether it’s Uncle Ben or Ben’s Original.”
Fact is. I think she’s right. The danger of brand renaming is not so much the action itself. It’s what comes next. Mars has gotta be asking itself, “Now what do we do?”
Ben’s Original isn’t a bad name. It’ll also come with new imagery. But keep some of the brand equity.
That is, changing the name itself isn’t a terrible idea. It just feels empty. As the pastor wrote. If feels like a defensive move instead of a proactive one.
The time has come for the Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima names to be retired. But I wonder if Quaker Oats and Mars figure that’s the end of it. They’ll wash their hands and say, “OK. We’ve done our part.”
Judging by yesterday’s reaction to the single Breonna Taylor charge, I’d say both have a lot of work to do in their brand renaming. They need to seek for greater meaning. Just changing the name isn’t enough.
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