Boxes of Uncle Ben’s branded rice stand on a store shelf inside of a shop in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

THE NEUTRAL

In wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, companies across the U.S. are acting swiftly to change racist brand images and address racial injustice.

PepsiCo on Wednesday announced the company will change the name and image for Aunt Jemima brand syrup due to the fact that both are based on a “racial stereotype.” Shortly after, the makers of Uncle Ben’s rice, Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, and Cream of Wheat announced their own plans to re-evaluate and “evolve” their packaging and brands.

As George Floyd protests continue, companies are facing a growing pressure to address racism in the U.S. In an Edelman poll last week, 60% of respondents said that how a brand responds to the protests would affect whether they buy from or boycott them. The rush of companies adjusting their brand images and speaking out against racial injustice has become so pervasive that advertising and marketing news site AdAge now publishes a live blog listing daily updates. 

The University of Florida announced that the school will abandon its “Gator Bait” cheer due to “horrific racist imagery” associated with the phrase, referring in part to the late 1800s when black babies were used as alligator bait. The country group Lady Antebellum last week announced they would officially change their name to Lady A due to the association of the word “antebellum” with the period of slavery. In television, ABC franchise The Bachelor announced a black bachelor following years of criticism for the reality show’s lack of diversity, although ABC executive Rob Mills denied that the casting of a bachelor was due to criticism of the show’s homogeneity.

Kevin D. Thomas, a professor of multicultural branding in the Race, Ethnic and Indigenous Studies Program at Marquette University, told the New York times that images of black people smiling innocuously on packaging first emerged in the U.S. post-Reconstruction, when white people were apprehensive about living alongside newly freed slaves. Behind each brand’s image is a backstory with racist references such as Uncle Ben, which evokes how white Southerners used “uncle” and “aunt” to address elderly black people because they refused to say “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Thomas added that he hopes the current changes will lead to a “substantial overhaul” in the marketing world.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Brands are fighting to prove they are anti-racist – but is it enough? – The Guardian – 6/14/2020
What do these weirdly granular details that sound like they’re from an episode of Billions tell us? It’s that exposing businesses’ hypocrisy and holding them to account through ethical consumerism may not deliver as much as we’d hoped.

Local professor says rebranding is good, but it doesn’t really address systemic racism – WSBT – 6/18/2020
“It’s an important issue, but there are these larger systemic things that need to be addressed and focusing on a single issue doesn’t address it. Focusing on a pancake syrup doesn’t address the issues.”

12 People And Brands That Finally Realized Black Lives Matter This Week – BuzzFeed – 6/12/2020
Band-Aid, which finally realized after 100 years that they need to be “committed to launching a range of bandages in light, medium and deep shades of Brown and Black skin tones that embrace the beauty of diverse skin.”

We’re missing the most glaringly racist brands – The Week – 6/18/2020
By all means, keep tearing down terrible statues and throwing out stereotypical logos. But don’t forget about the sports teams, which should not sneak out of this cultural reckoning unscathed. Franchises with insensitive mascots ought to take a good look around them, at the Americans on the streets demanding overdue changes, and take a step toward the right side of history.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

tim kingsbury on Twitter, 6/18/2020: @PepsiCo Its always a challenge when a brand like Aunt Jemima has been around since the 1920s. Best change, go all in – Black Lives Matter line of products where a % of sales go to ending racism. Then you have something!

Damon J. Kecman on Twitter, 6/18/2020: racist statues coming down & racist brands changing their logos is great, but has nothing to do with the main issue: police brutality & inequality towards people of color. when are the changes coming that will ACTIALLY hold cops accountable?

Bloomberg on Twitter, 6/18/2020:  Colgate-Palmolive Co. will carry out a complete overhaul for its Darlie toothpaste, acknowledging the racist past of the brand sold in China

Complex Style on Twitter, 6/18/2020:  Some brands have done a great job at responding to racism and supporting #BlackLivesMatter. One of them is Kyle Ng’s Brain Dead. We talked to the founder about raising $500K with a Blood Orange tee, how brands can hold themselves accountable, and more: 

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