PEACE FAWUSI discusses how the Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged some brands to create meaningful changes to reflect changing attitudes.
In light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, companies have scrambled to change their Twitter profile pictures, broadcast pledges for the betterment of Black representation and treatment, promised allegiance and released new BLM money-makers. Amongst them is Uncle Ben’s, an internationally famous rice brand that specialises in ready-to-eat foods in the form of grains, sauces and more. However, Uncle Ben’s is taking a drastic step. He’s been promoted to Ben’s Original, at least, in the eyes of the company. Meanwhile, Aunt Bessie awaits her own radical movement in your local supermarket. Someone might look at her Yorkshires and roasties and remember the hundred years of history she somehow represents.
Re-branding for ‘social justice’
The rebranding of Uncle Ben’s character who formally referenced a Black Texan farmer comes after recent Black Lives Matter protests across the UK and the US. The brand’s change reflects the “fight for social justice” (Sweeny, M. 2020). Meanwhile, Aunt Jemima, a famous Quaker foods product, after increasing criticism against the logo (yes, another black person) and name are also undergoing their own revamp for the third time since creation over 130 years ago.
There is a difference between Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima. Besides gender, Aunt Jemima is based on a caricature stereotype. Aunt Jemima was a stereotype of a black woman referred to as “the mammy” (Gabbatt, A. 2020), a term whose usage has been prevalent in negative media portrayals of African American women for the benefit of a company’s profits. Uncle Ben’s was simply reference to a Black man, which back in 1946, would have been a very big deal and we should celebrate till today.
Put your Pepsi down and put your hands up
Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima are just two companies out of the many that are changing to reflect the current societal issues. Their change is permanent and will have a lasting impact on generations to come. Maybe. One thing’s for sure, their re-brandings are nothing in comparison to the controversy of companies such as Pepsi, who through performative adverts trivialise the importance of Black Lives Matter and emphasise their ignorance to such important issues. No, a can of Pepsi will not “project a global message of unity, peace and understanding” (Victor, D. 2017) because I can assure you, if a black man was to reach anywhere, a shot will have already pierced his flesh. Somehow, that can of Pepsi would have been mistaken for a weapon. Pardoning Pepsi’s questionable marketing ideas, other industries have been quick to jump on the BLM bandwagon and bring home the profit. Calls to boycott seemingly racist or ignorant companies have led to others making the right marketing, sorry, ethical decisions.
Are you ‘woke’ enough?
Back in 2018, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick divided the US nation by kneeling to protest police brutality during the national anthem, Nike took the opportunity to use him as the figurehead of their advertising campaign. This came amidst the trending #NikeBoycott which saw their sales fall by 3%, only to be boosted by 30% post-campaign. By the way, the NFL blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for his silent protest against police brutality. But Nike’s response to threats to decrease their sales was to encroach on the BLM movement through virtue signalling political correctness. Today, Nike’s models come in varying shades. A gaming company, Bethesda, sparked a debate about “fake wokeness” (Comas, A. 2020) when they changed all but their Twitter Middle Eastern and Russian accounts to stand with LGBTQ+ rights. This led to people wondering whether their intentions were genuine or simply about company profit. There was a comment under the Bethesda article: “Classic. They have principles until it interferes with their cashflow” (Comas, A. 2020). Companies have one goal, to make profit. They should have one more; to care about their customers and be a voice to those who need it for they have the influence one voice lacks.
Allies of the world versus corporates
The purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities” (Black Lives Matter, 2013). The most recent BLM movement has promoted and encouraged the use of Black-owned businesses. As a whole, we’re moving into a more sustainable phase and paying more attention to a host of issues, amongst them are supporting plastic-free shops and Black-owned businesses. Nothing against larger, profit-driven companies that seem to be owned by the same people (see The Coca-Cola Company, who owns Fanta, Costa Coffee, Smart Water, etcetera). It’s just that smaller businesses are being given their time to thrive. Even if they are a little pricier, for the most part, they truly care for the environment and the things that live in the environment – the people.
While companies are scrambling to be placed in the politically correct aisle, personally, I’m put off by companies who release an insincere apology about adverts and products that any sane person would never have allowed past brainstorming. I’m also put off by companies who “ally” with the BLM and other movements in bid to gain consumers who would have otherwise never looked their way, simply because they never felt catered to or represented. Companies in the fashion industry have been quick to release images of coloured models on their social media, usually preceded with a message about vowing to do better. Why does it take global unrest to fix the wrongs they have either ignored or promoted to suit their selfish agendas?
Black Lives Matter. (2013). Retrieved from https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/
Braithwaite, T. (2020, June 5). How companies decided the Black Lives Matter. Financial Times. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/6bd46c48-ee90-42b8-af70-78d949025c1d
Comas, A. (2020, June 4). ‘Fake wokeness’: Video game firm Bethesda switches profile images to LGBT pride flag… but not on Middle East account. RT. Retrieved from https://www.rt.com/usa/490750-bethesda-games-lgbt-flag/
Gabbatt, A. (2020, June 17). Aunt Jemima brand to change name and logo due to racial stereotyping. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/17/aunt-jemima-products-change-name-image-racial-stereotype
Sweeny, M. (2020, June 18). Uncle Ben’s rice firm to scrap brand image of black farmer. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/18/uncle-bens-rice-firm-to-scrap-brand-image-of-black-farmer
Victor, D. (2017, April 5). Pepsi pulls ad accused of trivializing Black lives Matter. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/business/kendall-jenner-pepsi-ad.html
Written by Peace Fawusi