Company joins marketers of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Darkie, others
Darkie, yes Darkie, er…Darlie
The Associated Press reported today that the owner of Eskimo Pie is changing its name and marketing of the nearly century-old chocolate-covered ice cream bar, the latest brand to reckon with racially charged logos and marketing.
In a statement the company said, “We are committed to being a part of the solution on racial equality, and recognize the term is derogatory. This move is part of a larger review to ensure our company and brands reflect our people values.”
The AP went on to report that Eskimo Pie joins a growing list of brands that are rethinking their marketing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks triggered by the death of George Floyd. Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that it will retire the Aunt Jemima brand, saying the company recognizes the character’s origins are “based on a racial stereotype.”
Other companies are reviewing their name or logo as well.
Mars Inc. said it’s reviewing its Uncle Ben’s rice brand. B&G Foods Inc., which makes Cream of Wheat hot cereal, also said this past week it is initiating “an immediate review” of its packaging. A smiling black chef holding a bowl of cereal has appeared on Cream of Wheat packaging and in ads since at least 1918, according to the company’s website.
Chicago-based Conagra Brands, which makes Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, said its bottles — which are shaped like a matronly woman — are intended to evoke a “loving grandmother.” But the company said it can understand that the packaging could be misinterpreted. Critics have long claimed that the bottle’s design is rooted in the “mammy” stereotype.
Progress, late, to say the least, but progress nonetheless.
These actions remind me of my own personal experiences with a brand attempting to separate itself from racial stereotypes.
When I was the the Asia regional director for the advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding in the late ’80’s and into the ’90’s, one of our global clients was Colgate-Palmolive. C-P had a particularly large presence in Asia with subsidiaries in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, among other countries, often marketing the leading brands in their categories.
C-P’s presence in Hong Kong (and Taiwan) however, had been limited until the mid-1980’s when it acquired a 50% share in a local company Hawley and Hazel Chemical Company (Chinese owned, despite the name). Hawley and Hazel’s biggest product, and the leading toothpaste in its markets, was called “Darkie.”
As the image shows, not only was the name offensive, the brand’s packaging featured a black minstrel man with a huge smile, showing off his “pearly whites.”
Back in the U.S., Colgate executives were constantly criticized by shareholders at annual meetings for condoning both the name and the image. So, they finally decided to pressure Hawley and Hazel’s management to revise the name and the packaging. After a year of back and forth between C-P in New York and H&H in Hong Kong, H&H acquiesced and the change was made.
“Darkie became “Darlie.”
Notice anything? While the name was changed, the image and packaging remained identical. After more pressure from C-P, H&H finally made a change to the package image, lightening the skin tones of the minstrel man to a racially ambiguous man in a top hat. That’s the image that remains to this day.
I’m no expert, but according to a news report at the time of the name change, in Chinese, the world “darlie” means “black person.” (“黑人牙膏”)
Now, that’s progress!
But to give C-P some credit, on June 19, 2020, the company announced it will work with Hawley & Hazel to “review and further evolve all aspects” of the Darlie brand, including the brand name.
Unfortunately, it only took 30 years and Black Lives Matter to make this happen.