Brands want to replace racial stereotypes on packages. Not all customers agree
Companies using stereotypical Black characters or names on product packaging agree: It's time to review brand imagery to avoid contributing to systemic racism.
Last month, Cream of Wheat, Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth's and Uncle Ben's announced brand reviews after finding themselves in the spotlight amid the growing racial justice movement. The moves come months after Land O'Lakes began removing the image of a Native American woman from its packaging.
Customers, however, are sharply divided on the issue along racial, age, gender, geographic and political lines, according to the latest Ad Age-The Harris Poll, conducted among almost 2,000 consumers—894 men and 1,068 women—nationwide.
Among the Ad Age-The Harris Poll findings:
Younger generations want more change. Fifty-two percent of 18-to-34-year-olds believe the image on Aunt Jemima products should be replaced, compared with 47 percent of 35-to-49-year-olds, 32 percent of 50-to-64-year-olds and 33 percent of those 65 and older.
"An absolute disgrace and truly disgusting!" said an 18-year-old white woman from Florida. "America is one of the worst places for racism and it's terrible that people of color have to live this way. But white people don't want to hear about racism? It's a shame."
More men than women believe these products should be rebranded. Just 19 percent of women believe Cream of Wheat packaging perpetuates a damaging racial stereotype, compared with 32 percent of men.
"Aunt Jemima for one is not in any way an insult to anyone," said a 65-year-old New Jersey woman. "It is just a great brand name that is an institution. This goes for other branding." And from a 61-year-old Indiana woman: "Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, etc., are brands that have been around forever [and] for me just a brand name and had no more meaning than that."
Eighty-one percent of women regard Cream of Wheat as a well-known and trusted brand that would be throwing away equity built up over the years by rebranding, compared with 68 percent of men.
In some cases, women feel more strongly about the need to replace existing imagery. Forty-one percent of women believe Aunt Jemima should change the image on its packaging, compared with only 32 percent of men.
Republicans think it's less important for companies to rebrand. Eighty-two percent of Republicans strongly/somewhat agree that the brands are fine and that they are being too politically correct, compared with 56 percent of Democrats.
"All this is getting out of hand and people need to stop already," said a 40-year-old woman from California, whose political affiliation was not given, echoing the sentiment.
African-Americans are most supportive of rebranding. Fifty-one percent of Black men and 64 percent of Black women believe Aunt Jemima should be rebranded, compared with 47 percent and 32 percent of white men and women, respectively. For Uncle Ben’s 47 percent of Black men and 52 percent of Black women support rebranding, compared to 37 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of white men and women.
Several Black respondents said rebranding is only a start.
"Get rid of racially insensitive images, but recognize that it's not enough," said a 35-year-old Black woman from Virginia. "More needs to be done, such as ensuring Black people have leadership positions in your company, including positions in the C-suite."
Will Johnson, CEO of The The Harris Poll, outlined the opportunity for brands:
"It is clear from the data that CPG companies need to listen most to communities whose likeness are being portrayed by these brands, he said. "Most African-Americans—and two-thirds of Black women—say Aunt Jemima is perpetuating a damaging racial stereotype, and almost half put Uncle Ben's, Mrs. Butterworth, Cream of Wheat and Chiquita Banana in this same category."
The Ad Age-The Harris Poll asked consumers' opinions about brand names and imagery perpetuating racial stereotypes, whether names and imagery should be changed and whether brands would be missed if discontinued. Some respondents also had messages for companies both using such imagery as well as those planning to change it.
The poll also found that:
City dwellers favor changes to brand images more than 2-to-1 over rural residents. Fifty-six percent percent of urbanites, for instance, say Aunt Jemima should replace the image on its products, compared with 26 percent of rural residents.
"Don't use stereotypes," said a 37-year-old New York woman. A 38-year-old New York woman put it this way: "These characters depict racial stereotypes that subjugate Black people and demean them and their humanity."
Three-quarters of all racial groups say they'd continue buying these products under a new brand name. Sixty-six percent of white people would miss Aunt Jemima, compared to 54 percent of African-Americans and 72 percent of Hispanics.
"Brands should also take guidance from other products that have successfully rebranded after they were called out for perpetuating damaging racial stereotypes—such as Frito Bandito," Johnson says. "Aunt Jemima, under a new name and/or image, would, too, based on this poll."
Brands hoping to gain customer support by eliminating racial stereotypes from packaging might be surprised by this poll finding: Some consumers who support brand refreshes also think brands are being too politically correct.
Sixty-one percent of 18-to-34-year-olds believe brands are being too politically correct, while 51 percent of the same age group believe brands should remove harmful stereotypes.
The breakdown by race:
Among white respondents, 73 percent of men and women say brands are being too politically correct, while 46 percent of men and 32 percent of women support the removal of racial stereotypes.
Among Black respondents, 59 percent of men and 47 percent of women say brands are being too politically correct, while 48 percent of men and 72 percent of women support the removal of racial stereotypes.
One respondent, a 66-year-old Black man from North Carolina, had his own suggestion for brands.
"Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and mix and Uncle Ben's rice, a lot of us grew up with these brands and enjoyed them very much," he said. "So don't change a thing."
No consensus on removing racial stereotypes from packaging
Consumers are divided by race, gender, age, income, and politics