In recent years, amid social unrest and a focus on racial justice, many companies announced rebranding initiatives that would eliminate racial stereotypes and culturally insensitive names and logos. PepsiCo, Quaker Oat’s parent company, announced in June 2020 that it would revamp its 130-year-old Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup brand to eliminate racial stereotypes the brand was founded on.
Critics had called on Aunt Jemima to change its name for decades, but the company seemingly brushed it under the rug. It wasn’t until an extreme shift in the marketing environment in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s death that the company began to listen.
Social forces are key components of the marketing environment. Social forces include the public’s opinions and attitudes toward various issues. As the calls for eliminating racial stereotypes became louder and louder, PepsiCo could no longer ignore them.
The company announced its new name—Pearl Milling Company—in February 2021. This refers to the original company that invented ready-made pancake mix in the late 19th century.
New product packaging began to hit store shelves in the summer of 2021. The transition was gradual, however. The company did not pull all products from stores and immediately replace them. This would be incredibly costly and have major implications for the supply chain.
Instead, the transition happened slowly over time as the company and retailers depleted old stock. As of October 2021, product shelves were still in transition.
Months after unveiling Pearl Milling Company, the pancake company introduced an advertising campaign in September 2021 to remind consumers that while the brand name changed, the product was still the same. The campaign included three 30-second TV ads featuring families.
The company communicated this message without mentioning the old brand name, apart from the fine print. This move puts a greater distance between Pearl Milling Company and its problematic history. The company also aims to “accelerate growth in the pancake and syrup categories,” a PepsiCo spokesperson told CNN Business.
The company said that since shelves were still transitioning to the new brand, it was too soon to report on how the new brand was selling compared to the old brand.
Aunt Jemima is not the only brand that found itself in the spotlight. Uncle Ben’s (now Ben’s Original), Land O’Lakes, and Eskimo Pie (now Edy’s Pie) all made changes to their products and packaging. Rebranding is an expensive and time-intensive process because it affects brand names, product names, symbols, packaging, advertising, and more. The actions taken by these companies indicate they all believe that rebranding was the best path forward and the best way to commit to corporate citizenship.
In the Classroom
This article can be used to discuss corporate citizenship (Chapter 2: Business Ethics and Social Responsibility), the marketing environment (Chapter 11: Customer-Driven Marketing), and advertising (Chapter 12: Dimensions of Marketing Strategy).
- Why did Aunt Jemima rebrand to Pearl Milling Company?
- Do you think brands such as Pearl Milling Company, Ben’s Original, and Edy’s Pie will benefit from rebranding in the long term?
- Can you think of another example of a company making changes in response to social forces in the marketing environment?
This article was developed with the support of Kelsey Reddick for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell.
Chauncey Alcorn, "Pearl Milling Company’s New Ads Remind Customers It Used to Be Aunt Jemima—Without Mentioning the Racist Brand," CNN, September 3, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/31/business/pearl-milling-company-aunt-jemima/index.html
Maria Cramer, “After Aunt Jemima, Reviews Underway for Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth and Cream of Wheat,” The New York Times, June 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/business/aunt-jemima-mrs-butterworth-uncle-ben.html
Nadra Nittle, "Exorcising Aunt Jemima," Eater, May 25, 2021, https://www.eater.com/22450623/racist-brand-mascot-logo-changes-aunt-jemima-uncle-bens-land-o-lakes