Over the years I’ve seen a number of companies forced by consumers to “stop being racist”. They don’t think they’re being racist, they’re just doing what they always did, but because of demographic changes their use of certain icons become out of touch with modern thinking – and just as importantly, the mixed ethnic origins of their clientèle!
The famous example from the UK involved Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade, complete with brand mnemonic. Over the years they’d stopped calling the symbol a “gollywog” (the last syllable of this word is extremely offensive to black people). But you could still save up vouchers for the badge and toys.
After much pressure, the mascot was finally dropped in 2001, 18 years after the Greater London council boycotted the brand for being offensive.
This later example, right, comes from China and was then rolled out to a few other Asian countries. The brand was introduced in 1933 in Hong Kong, then a UK colony. Once Colgate-Palmolive bought 50% of the company in 1985, they left it for a while, until people back in the States got wind of the brand name “Darkie” in the range and got the firm to change it to Darlie. The logo was also adapted. The Chinese never saw it as offensive. It was a black man with bright teeth. In China they call people from the West long noses. I’ve never taken offence at that – we do have longer noses. But pressure groups push and push, and if a groundswell of opinion picks up momentum and the pressure becomes unbearable, companies just have to comply with the new social trend. The new generation of brand users won’t miss the old name. If it’s a good brand, it’ll survive.
So. Allow me to introduce you to my all-time favourite shocker, which I discovered in a shop while on business back in 1998: Negerbrot.
Before you get too upset, it needs to be remembered that neger in German is cognate with negro, not the even more offensive word (which I can’t even bring myself to write). Despite this, I was shocked when I first stumbled across the brand in a village shop. I decided to keep a pack for the archives. It was made by Heller, which in the meantime has withdrawn both the product and the brand. I wonder why…