Aunt Jemima, Branding And It’s “Unsavory Past”

Building brands, as anyone knows, takes a lot of time. And effort. And money.

But what if a brand that’s been around for a very long time rose to prominence in a not-quite-Kosher way?

That’s the story of Aunt Jemima, PepsiCo, Quaker Oats and Pinnacle Foods, writes Claire Zillman on Fortune magazine.

So what’s going on?

In a class action lawsuit, D.W. Hunter and Larnell Evans claim that PepsiCo Inc., its subsidiary Quaker Oats Co. (which sells Aunt Jemima syrup), and Pinnacle Foods (which makes Aunt Jemima frozen pancakes) schemed to deny that their great grandmother, Anna Short Harrington, had worked for Quaker Oats while refusing to pay her royalties for 60 years, as products bearing her image brought in millions of dollars in sales.

The lawsuit alleges that Quaker Oats recruited Harrington as she cooked pancakes at the New York State Fair, after which the company used her recipes and trademarked her likeness as Aunt Jemima. A November 1935 ad in Woman’s Home Companion magazine that pictured Harrington’s likeness in a red bandana appeared with the title “Let ol Autie sing in yo’ kitchen”—a headline that the plaintiffs say capitalized on Harrington’s Southern accent and distinct dialect, which stems from the Gullah Geechee culture that was prevalent in South Carolina.

“Throughout the 1930s, the bulk of Aunt Jemima advertising continued to concentrate on the romantic world of ‘plantation flavor,’” the lawsuit says.

More damagingly, for the brand, Claire adds:

Indeed, the Aunt Jemima character has long come under fire for its racist past. In a 2007 interview with NPR, Maurice Manring, author of Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, said that the marketing of Aunt Jemima came of age in an era when middle-class housewives were not able to employ black maids as easily as they once did. The ads targeted the nostalgia for those earlier days. “You can’t have Aunt Jemima today but you can have her recipe and that’s the next best thing,” Manring said, explaining the ads. “And so what we’re talking really about is trying to ease the transition from having someone do something for you to doing it yourself, and that’s where the slavery nostalgia was particularly effective,” he said.

That’s pretty reprehensible…But will the companies settle?

Not sure about the $2B that the lawsuit wants, but maybe at a much lower point – something that just about offsets the cost of rebranding and any negative publicity resulting from a potentially embarrassing lawsuit. Maybe…we shall see in the not too distant future, I think. 

Marketing To Teens: 1956 Edition

As part of celebrating 125 years of being around, the Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a number of stories it published over the years.

The one that stood out to me, on the business front, was this 1956 piece called “Teenage Customers: Merchants Seek Teens’ Dollars, Influence Now, Brand Loyalty Later” – that highlights the relatively advanced state of marketing, even back then. 

I can’t copy paste an excerpt (no OCR), so two image excerpts will have to do:


and this:


If you subscribe to The WSJ, the compilation of stories is worth taking a look at…


Turns Out Consumers LOVE Headphones Made By Celebrities

A while ago, I talked about headphones becoming like perfume, with celebrity branding as the only differentiator. 

And what a differentiator it is!

The Economist writes (stuff in bold = my emphasis, below),

Among the first to spot the potential of this market was Dr Dre, an American rapper-cum-tycoon. In 2008 he and Jimmy Iovine, a record producer, launched their Beats range of headphones, to great success. They have all but created a new product category: premium-priced ($100-plus) cans whose sound quality is good enough, but which mainly sell on their brand image.

Beats Electronics and its founders have proved adept at using celebrity endorsements and product placement to plug their headphones. In America the company now has almost half the market for premium-priced cans, compared with 21% for Bose, a longer-established maker. Beats headphones are bassy: that’s what hip-hop fans want, but might not suit opera lovers. Overall, though, they are a lot better than the earbuds that come free with most portable devices.

Very impressive, wouldn’t you say?

How Avis Took On Hertz With An Ad Slogan



Advertisements are powerful things. Done right, they can get the point across, weaken the competition, build brand equity (over time) and grow a company (things we all know, yes). 

But every once in a while, certain Ads work stunningly well and thereby achieve iconic status. 

A longish (~ 3 minutes ) piece in Slate by Seth Stevenson talks about the Ad that Avis took out in 1962 to successfully take on Hertz. Actually it just doesn’t talk about it – it actually posits that this was the most brilliant Ad slogan of the 20th century. 


So how did it come into being?

Acknowledging any sort of brand weakness used to be anathema to Madison Avenue. Why encourage consumers to wonder why you’re stuck in second place? Better to project unflappable confidence. At the risk of ascribing too much to the dynamics of 1960s gender roles: Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a woman devised the Avis slogan. DDB copywriter Paula Green—a real-life Peggy Olson—came up with the “When you’re only No. 2” construction. It was revolutionary because, as Green said in later interviews, “It went against the notion that you had to brag.” (Green has also acknowledged, in what sounds like a nod to the workplace obstacles she faced, “ ‘We Try Harder’ is somewhat the story of my life.”)

Famed ad man David Ogilvy praised Green’s Avis ads as a feat of “diabolical positioning,” and DDB became known for these judo-style campaigns, in which a foe’s putative strengths are turned against him. When American cars were growing massive and show-offy and comically tail-finned, DDB pitched the Volkswagen Beetle with a now legendary 1961 print ad. “Think Small,” read the copy, with a teensy image of the car floating against an expanse of white space. “It’s ugly but it gets you there,” another VW ad confessed. DDB partner Bill Bernbach had sized up the cultural moment: Americans were weary of earnest, bigger-is-better, 1950s-style consumerism. The audience was receptive to a humble message that tweaked authority.

Enjoy the full piece here

PS: Hungry for more or don’t want to click on that link? Here’s some more context on the Ad from Avis’ website (the Avis in Cyprus website; why Cyprus? Google):

    • In an attempt to convince potential customers that Avis simply tried harder than everybody else, the entire ad campaign was focused on frank and truthful statements about Avis’ business philosophy. To communicate this to the field, the entire management team at Avis traveled to every branch location across the country, spoke with every single employee and explained that the success of the campaign and of their business hinged upon providing superior customer service every chance they got.
    • Each Avis employee also received a copy of new Avis ads in his or her pay envelope before each campaign would run.
    • In just one year, the campaign literally changed the fortunes of the Company.  Prior to the campaign, Avis had just $34 million in revenue and losses of $3.2 million. One year later, revenues had jumped to $38 million and for the first time in thirteen years, Avis turned a profit of $1.2 million.
    • The biggest short-term success of the campaign was found in Avis’ market share, which grew from 11 percent in 1962 to an amazing 35 percent in 1966.
    • Due to the success of the campaign, Avis’ advertising budget increased from $1.7 million in 1963 to $6.2 million four years later.

A Branded Way To “React” To Online Content

React The New Like

Likes, Favorites and Up/Down votes are all different way of registering one’s approval, or disapproval, of what we read, see and encounter online. 

This morning, after reading a story on Buzzfeed, I encountered a new way in which readers and viewers can “react” to online content – one that lets you shoot a short “Vine”-like “Selfie”. And, as you can see in the picture above, it offers brands and companies an opportunity to make yet another (more sticky?) impression.

But will it catch on? 

Maybe, but I am just not too sure…because, while clicking on a button is one thing, putting up your moving mug shot, in all its unblemished glory for the world to judge, is completely different (and just a bit intimidating). 

What do you think?

Nestle’s Resource: Differentiation Via Electrolytenment

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Bottled water is one of those things that you want and need when you travel. At all other times, tap water is almost always just as good, at least in the developed world.

Given that, how do you introduce yet another brand and differentiate yourself to the point that consumers are willing to pay more, on a per gallon basis, for your “still” water, than they would, for gas?

You endow it with “Electrolytenment”, despite this: 

As for promoting electrolytes, David G. Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, noted that Resource stopped short of explicitly claiming they benefit health.

“They’re trying to stay away from F.D.A. interference but it also allows them to leave it up to the consumer to imagine the benefits that might come from electrolytes,” Mr. Schardt said.

With the exception of distilled water, all water contains some naturally occurring electrolytes like sodium and potassium, he said, adding that the added electrolytes in sports drinks are necessary only for extreme exertion.

“Replacing your electrolytes is only an issue for endurance athletes sweating for hours, not a jogger going out for a half-hour,” Mr. Schardt said.

Andrew Adam Newman writes elsewhere in the article I excerpted that snippet from that the only concrete positive about Resource is that the bottles are made with 50% recycled plastic. Which is great and I wish that all other plastic bottle makers emulate them or do better.

But still (an unintended pun), tap water uses no plastic at all, yes?

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