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Changing Attitudes Have Some Companies Rebranding

Heightened awareness of systemic racism is sparking reexaminations of consumer products.

Quaker Oats, the parent company of the Aunt Jemima line of breakfast foods, will retire the face and name of Aunt Jemima, both longtime lightning rods for criticism due to the “mammy archetype” and its origins in American slavery. Already gone include the American Indian woman on Land O’ Lakes packaging. Additionally, the future of Uncle Ben, the face of the Uncle Ben’s brand of packaged foods, is being reconsidered by Mars Inc.

“This is a time for all of us, especially advertising educators, to recommit to sustained dialogues addressing the impact advertising has on society and on individuals’ actions,” said Teresa Mastin, professor and chairperson at the Michigan State University Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “We must educate about foundational meanings of symbols. We owe this to our students, who will sign off on future campaigns. We must ensure students consciously connect the profession’s role in perpetuating stereotypes.”

We live in a time when products and brands are not just functional aspects of consumers’ lives, said Saleem Alhabash, an associate professor in Mastin’s department.

“When we buy a brand or product, we are buying the value system that produced it,” Alhabash said. “And if there is incongruence between the values that the brand embodies and our own values, we simply withdraw our interest and dollars and move toward a brand or product that aligns better.”

To protect market share, companies will likely be more cautious when making branding decisions.