"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

Re-Branding Products: Unprecedented Global Response


The horrific death of George Floyd by police officers and subsequent protests seemed to have had an unprecedented global response on the re-branding of products. Panicked companies are changing their names, logos, and mascots due to the troubled, racial history of their particular product. 

Many of these products stem from racial tropes that have been around for almost 150 years. These Corporations have heard and resonated with the global outcry for re-branding. However, they seem to finally be making the necessary re-branding changes that should have been made decades ago. While these changes need to be made, will there be a new problem created by completely removing diversity of minorities on products so that brand mascots are only white? Are brands making a huge mistake by removing the mascots instead of re-evolving them?

Aunt Jemima, owned by Quaker Oats, kicked off the chain reaction recently with their announcement to rename and repackage the brand. Aunt Jemima had been through re-branding previously, having done so in 1989 by finally removing Aunt Jemima’s mammy head-rag (with slavery ties), and updating her look to that of an average mom/housewife. There have even been Aunt Jemima ad campaigns with all black actors such as a commercial that aired in 1994.

Aunt Jemima was named after an old minstrel song that was sung at all white minstrel shows in blackface makeup in the late 1870s. The company hired a housekeeper from a prominent family of Chicago judges in the 1890s by the name of Nancy Green. She became a celebrity by doing thousands of countless ad campaigns and in-person appearances. She used her newfound status to work in anti-poverty activism through her church. She died in Chicago in 1923 as a victim of a vehicular hit and run.

What set off the re-branding domino effect were not the national protests, but rather a viral TikTok video by singer Kirby titled, “How Not to Make a Racist Breakfast.” The video was followed by a tweet from Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanhian. The video showed Kirby dumping out a box of Aunt Jemima pancake batter into her sink.

Other products soon followed in the unprecedented global response on re-branding products including: Uncle Ben’s (Mars Foods), Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup (Conagra Foods), Cream of Wheat. (B&G Foods), Old Sam Rum, and Nestle’s Eskimo Pies are all getting a post-Floyd image re-makeover or retirement.

The terms “Aunt” and “Uncle” were given to respected older black people during the Jim Crow era instead of Mr. and Mrs.

Uncle Ben’s claims they were making the necessary changes prior to Aunt Jemima and Kirby’s Tik Tok video from listening to feedback from black employees and customers.

Uncle Ben’s was invented in 1932 by British-German scientist/chemist Erich Huzenlaub (1888–1964) and the British scientist/chemist Francis Heron Rogers as a super rice that was able to retain more nutrients and was impervious to weevils. It was first marketed during WWII (1943) by the Mars Corporation.

According to their website, Mars carefully chose Uncle Ben’s mascot as a composite of two real life people: A Black Texan, rice farmer who was known as Uncle Ben, and a beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown.

In 2007, Mars reportedly spent $20 million to upgrade Uncle Ben from humble servant to imaginary CEO out of pressure to upgrade the product’s racist connotations through a virtual Website. However, in recent years Uncle Ben seems to have been demoted.

Surprisingly, the race of Mrs. Butterworth has been debated by people for decades. However, Conagra Foods will be retooling the shape of the bottle because of the comparison to the mammy stereotype combined with the dark color of the pancake syrup, and the distinctive yellow cap which could be argued resembles a female slave’s head rag. This is all speculation because there is no evidence that Mrs. Butterworth’s, unlike Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, was based on any racial tropes. Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup was introduced in 1961.

This makes the image of the 2019 ad of plantation owner Colonel Sanders “dirty dancing” with Mrs. Butterworth for a KFC chicken and waffles ad even more troubling.

Cream of Wheat, like Aunt Jemima, made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The World’s Fair, at the time, was the epitome of the future and global re-branding on a massive scale. Other every day, now-taken-for-granted wonders were introduced at the World’s Fair, such as Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, Hershey’s Chocolate, Juicy Fruit Gum, PBR, the first brownie, Vienna Sausage, braille, the Ferris Wheel, the pressed penny, the moving walkway, the third rail that gives electric power to modern subway systems, the first spray, the electric car, and the first functional modern electrical kitchen including a dishwasher. This World’s Fair also was a 400-year celebration of Columbus’s landing. The international reputation of Columbus in the past two decades has also fallen. He has gone from progressive explorer to sociopath racist. Columbus Day, in some states, has had serious re-branding to Indigenous People’s Day.

The Cream of Wheat icon has a slightly more troubling history. The mascot was modeled off a derogatory, racial stereotype called Rastus. Rastus was the black stereotype of a carefree, happy, stupid black man. The Cream of Wheat character actually used the name Rastus for its spokesman. In one very racist, undated ad from the early 1900s a Rastus held a sign with misspellings, no punctuation, and bad grammar.

Maybe Cream of Wheat got no vitamines. I don’t know what them things is bugs they ain’t none in Cream of Wheat but she’s sho’ good to eat and cheap. Costs bout 1¢ fo’ a great big dish.

Cream of Wheat has claimed that their fictional spokesperson was based on a real Michigan chef despite proof in old advertising that it is completely based on the older minstrel Rastus stereotype with the Michigan chef being a cover story.

The most troublesome of racist products to fall or for re-branding is Darlie Toothpaste. Darlie Toothpaste is Colgate-Palmolive’s Chinese brand of toothpaste established in 1933. Darlie was originally called Darkie Toothpaste with a racist minstrel in shoe polish blackface as it’s mascot. In 1985, Darkie became Darlie, but the mascot did not become lighter skinned and he still wore the top hat until 1989. However, the Chinese translation of the product “Black Person Toothpaste” still remains the same. Colgate-Palmolive says they are simply putting the product under review, but no word whether they will shelve, or re-brand the product.

Old Sam Rum, based in the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, announced they were changing their logo of an old laughing black man.

It is not just products featuring derogatory stereotypes of black people that are being changed, but of any non-white race.

However, there has been no spillover on racist mascots from white ethnic backgrounds like Lucky Charms. 

Nestle announced they were dropping the name and logo of their famous Eskimo Pies, created in 1922.

Land O’Lakes Butter was a month ahead of the re-branding zeitgeist and the Floyd incident by announcing they were finally removing the image of a Native American woman from their packaging after 99 years. Land O’Lakes is run by a Minnesota agricultural farmers cooperative.

Chiquita is facing re-branding pressure to change their Ms. Chiquita logo. No word if they will act on it or not.

The Washington Redskins are also once again facing tremendous pressure to re-brand and change their name and mascot.

It is not just products with an unprecedented global response on re-branding their product, Sambo’s Restaurant in Santa Barbara announced last week they are changing their name.

While removing systemic racism is needed, there is a huge problem in just removing every minority logo instead of evolving the brand in the re-branding process. There will be only white representation on brands.

By Alexander Campbell


People: Aunt Jemima to Undergo Rebrand in Step to ‘Make Progress Toward Racial Equality’
Forbes: As Quaker Foods Rebrands Aunt Jemima, Is There Hidden Racism In America’s Kitchens?
Adweek: Uncle Ben’s to Change Racist Branding; Why Purple Works for Streamers: Thursday’s First Things First
Adweek: Uncle Ben’s to Change ‘Visual Brand Identity’ Following Aunt Jemima News
The Cut: More Food Companies Are Reconsidering Their Racist Branding
CNN: Cream of Wheat is reviewing its black mascot after Aunt Jemima and others acknowledged their racist roots
CNN: Colgate is still selling ‘Black Person Toothpaste’ in China. Now that’s under rreview
Wall Street Journal: Eskimo Pie to Drop Derogatory Name, Dreyer’s Says
The New York Times: Land O’Lakes Removes Native American Woman From Its Products

Image Courtesy of Mike Steele’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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