In the early 1890s, a tune called “Aunt Jemima” first inspired the idea for the famous trademark and was its original jingle. It was sung by a black-faced, vaudeville performer (who was, of course, not of African origin) wearing an apron and bandana. Years later, Nancy Green, a 59-year-old former slave, was hired to be the brand’s living spokesperson. During the ’50s and ’60s the trademark was under heavy criticism as an offensive representation, and over the decades the character mirrored the changes in America’s perceptions and attitude toward African-Americans.
Racism and intolerance has survived in our culture for centuries. These startling examples of its expression in design and marketing are especially repugnant because they aren’t just offensive in and of themselves, they speak of whole eras of intolerance as the norm.
1925—Illinois Nut Products Co., selling peanut brittle and candy-covered nuts with the tagline “sure am good.”
Cartoons account for the vast majority of spokescharacters, but bigot-inspired toons are strange and disturbing because they derive part of their humor from a demeaning stereotype.
1928—Kramer & Barcus had Rastus peddling watermelons.
1928—Ward-Owsley Co. Inc., pitching candy with a derogatory stereotypical caricature.
Henry E. Howind, Co., treated cloths for polishing and cleaning metal.
The message, “so effective it’ll take the color off a black servant” is so offensive now, but it was probably considered “clever” only 80 years ago.
Pillsbury introduced a line of calorie-free powdered drink mixes. Two of the flavors, Injun Orange, and Chinese Cherry, were quickly replaced due to “racial sensitivity concerns.”
The entire product theme is racist jokes; the corrupted English for the product name, the artwork, the product description “candee yen toy.” The back of the package portrays a bucktoothed Asian named Confusing (parodying the Chinese philosopher Confucius) with the joke message, “Sunbathing is a fry in the ointment.”
Over and Done With?
This latest campaign in the Netherlands for Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP), which metaphorically depicts a “white PSP” aggressively gripping the jaw of a “black PSP” for the launch of the white version of the product. This billboard is one of several provocative images in the launch campaign. Sony defended the campaign concept with statements of the obvious that didn’t really address the morality question; focusing on “…the contrast [between product color options]…” and explaining the core of the campaign being “…stunningly photographed imagery…” Well, that’s one way to put it.
Edgy, controversial, sure. For a video game system? Look at it in context—even within the postage-stamp-sized view of this newsletter—and it’s unsettling. Of course, if slavery and intolerance hadn’t ever existed, this image would be seen in a totally different light. But, then, slavery and intolerance DID and DO exist.
Nazi Potato Chips
How long does it take to cease caring about the severity of the extermination of 10 million human beings? Well, when you’re peddling junk food it happens faster than you’d think.
In 1998, the Bangkok subsidiary of a very large American ad agency launched an unbelievable campaign for “X” brand potato chips, a product made in Thailand.
The offensive television commercials caused a huge uproar, especially with the Israeli embassy. Why? The ads featured Adolf Hitler transforming into a wild and fun-loving guy after eating the chips, whereupon he strips off his Nazi uniform and dances around enthusiastically as Nazi swastikas morph into the “X” of the logo.
The ad was promptly yanked, but the fact that it was even conceived, let alone developed and produced into a final commercial that was actually aired on television, should cause great moral pause.
“Just Kidding,” Huh?
Let’s examine that it’s impossible that the seriousness of Hitler as a historical figure happened to escape the marketing “brains” behind this whopper. So, it follows that very likely the strategy was that the ads would either be a success or explode in the press like free PR fireworks in the shapes of swastikas and Xs. Sad and gross.
You might ask yourself “Aren’t we doing just that by retelling this story?” Well, we don’t think any of our readership now has the inclination to buy “X” brand potato chips. If they do, then rest assured that their cold hearts will ultimately clog and implode.
This Just In…
Helping to Redesign the World
Rigney Graphics is proud and honored to support Youth for Human Rights International. The design of their new globally acclaimed website (youthforhumanrights.org) is the most recent example of our efforts to help make the world a better place.
This isn’t just a shameless plug, using a powerful social issue to hawk goods. This is primarily included to show our active efforts and support to help, in ways more productive than just social commentary or criticism.
Remember that keeping your eyes open, implies that you should do something about it when you see it.