By Sukey Omran
The Quaker Oats Company took an important step this year in deciding to overhaul its AUNT JEMIMA brand. Kristin Kroeplf of Quaker Foods stated: "We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner that intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough."
The AUNT JEMIMA brand used the "mammy" stereotype, namely the stereotype of an African American woman who is happy to be enslaved. The Aunt Jemima character was first created in the ministrel show song “Old Aunt Jemima”. Minstrel shows were known for skits and musical performances that involved entertainers in blackface. The original owner of the AUNT JEMIMA brand based the brand on the character in these minstrel shows. After acquiring the AUNT JEMIMA brand, the Quaker Oats Company moved away from the stereotypical mammy caricature, and updated the image of Aunt Jemima to that of a modern African American woman. However, the name AUNT JEMIMA did not change, thereby perpetuating the link to the brand's racialized history.
What have we learned from this? Brand owners should constantly re-evaluate their trademarks. If a trademark is imbued with a history or meaning that does not align with the brand, then a prudent course of action is to update or revamp the mark. Since marks may be renewed in perpetuity, and decades may pass between registration and subsequent renewals, brand owners should always include a re-evaluation step to ensure the brand is appropriate and that it resonates with consumers.