Last summer I posted Branding 2020 – Part I Responsible Messaging. In addition to the pandemic, racism in America was a noteworthy issue. Quaker Foods announced they were going to rebrand Aunt Jemima given the brand’s racial stereotypes. Last week PepsiCo. publicized the rebrand as the Pearl Milling Company. Trivial!
I am an Aunt Jemima brand alumnus. I was the junior member of the AJ brand team back in 1986. We decided to rebrand Aunt Jemima by providing her with a graphic facelift – a fresh profile, plus removed her bandana. I remember the countless meetings, plus traveling around the country conducting focus groups listening to Afro-Americans voice their concern about racist branding. In retrospect, maybe a naïve advertising mishap only settling for a packaging redesign of her image versus a total rebrand including changing her name. Consequently, I wanted to get a better understanding of the origin of Pearl Milling Company. This is what I learned:
- The current line of Aunt Jemima pancake mixes, syrups, cornmeal, flour and grits rebranded to Pearl Milling Company in the familiar red packaging, will arrive on supermarket shelves June 2021.
- The Pearl Milling Company dates back to 1889, when a small mill in St. Joseph, Missouri developed a milling process producing flour, cornmeal and self-rising pancake mix that would go on to be known as Aunt Jemima.
- PepsiCo Inc.’s press release (a.k.a. corporate speak) indicted Quaker Foods worked with consumers, employees, external cultural subject-matter experts and diverse agency partners to gather broad perspectives to ensure the new brand was developed with inclusivity in mind. They also announced they will initiate a $1 million commitment to “empower and uplift Black girls and women” in addition to PepsiCo’s more than $400 million, five-year investment to uplift Black business and communities, plus increase Black representation at PepsiCo.
As I stated above, I remember the countless meetings we conducted back in 1986 to rebrand Aunt Jemima. I can only imagine the number of meetings already conducted and the future meetings needed to launch Pearl Milling Company by June of 2021. FYI: Other brands scheduled to rebrand thanks to the racial reckoning of 2020 include Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Eskimo Pie.
Back when I was a product manager in corporate America, rebranding was like a face lift. We wanted to refresh our brand messaging to sell more widgets. Rebranding in 2021 sounds woke: trivial rebranding!
Amazing that it took PepsiCo until 2021 to make this change. Where have they been, sleeping for the past 20+ years?
Thank you for your comment Warren. Pepsi bought Quaker Oats in 2001 and is a totally different company than it was back then. Very focused on snacks and beverages. Being on the brand team for the Pear Milling Co. is like being sent to Siberia.
Trivial? Really? I don’t consider leaving behind over 130 years of brand equity trivial. I don’t consider this simply a “woke make-over.” What would you consider to be significant rebranding if this is trivial?
Brand history to me means little to a majority of consumers in the age of Nike and Apple. Its nice, but a yawn.
I agree that it sounds woke. I have changed my position on rebranding brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Bens. I now think that if even a small minority of consumers find the brand offensive, they are still potential consumers being alienated. So you are creating enemies instead of believers.
Why do it?
So pragmatic as opposed to woke.
Two points: 1.) Racism in America is deeper than old logos that some people find racist; and 2.) Look at the brands, old, old, old and declining. So to me woke window dressing, especially when you make public a $1 million fund. More important would be to go after brands using palm oil leading to deforestation of the Amazon.
I tried without success to post earlier: the racial wounds are deep, scarring and raw and still persist as evident by recent violence. Any efforts, however we might find shallow window dressing by corporations still represent some albeit modest effort to change course and not exclude a consumer group