2020 has brought massive change to the world and we’re only in June.
Aside from the pandemic and terrifying blazes in Australia, the mass global protests for the Black Lives Matter movement have had seismic impact globally, highlighting just how diseased and outdated our attitude to race and diversity is.
Cities across the world have seen statues of historical figures who made their fortunes in slavery torn down by locals, TV shows, films and football chants taken off air and censored, and passionate protests throughout the streets.
It’s a cause that has forced people to show their true colours and address issues within their organisations head-on. It has been a difficult path for some to navigate – some brands have been accused of virtue signalling because they felt they ‘had to’. It’s these empty promises – words not deeds – that have been called out by consumers.
For some brands however, their actions have matched their words and its these brands that have weathered the storm well. For example, “the Nike, Jordan and Converse brands will collectively make a $40 million commitment over the next four years to support the black community in the U.S”. Reebok too, has made a commitment to the black community and publicly acknowledged their role in the creation of the brand.
For some brands, the BLM movement has made them rethink their identity entirely, with mixed reaction from its consumers.
Aunt Jemima, a US brand specialising in syrups and breakfast foods (owned by Quaker Oats) is one of those brands considering changing their brand identity completely. Featuring a black woman named after a character from 19th – century Minstrel show that mocked African-Americans, the brand owners acknowledged that the brand no longer reflected the attitudes of today’s society. It has prompted Quaker Oats to announce that they are looking deeply into their portfolio of brands
“We recognise Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on racial stereotypes. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realise those changes are not enough. We are starting by removing the image and changing the name.”
Aunt Jemima also pledged to donate around £3.9 million over the next five years in support of the African-American community.
Following Quaker Oats’ announcement, Uncle Ben’s also announced that they will be removing the logo of the black rice farmer, a fictional character whose name has provided the brand identity since the 1940s, from their packaging and overall brand. Mars, the parent company of Uncle Ben’s, said it has a responsibility to “take a stand” and help put an end to racial injustice. Although they don’t yet know exactly what changes will be made, they will start with the visual branding.
The response to this, however, hasn’t been as positively praised as Aunt Jemima’s rebrand. The announcement trended on Twitter with some saying it was a long time coming, but a larger proportion suggesting it was a step backwards by suggesting that black people can’t be used to represent products.
Times are indeed on the change and quite rightly so. But what can brands learn from this? For us, the biggest take out is that a brand should always be listening to their audience, evolving with them in mind. A business whose actions and deeds align with their audiences attitudes and expectations generally fares much better than those that offer empty words and promises.