Industry assesses Allen's Lollies rebrand as racial sensitivity escalates

Brand strategists applaud Nestle's decision to join a growing list of brands rethinking their brand identity in response to cultural sensitivity

Several brand strategists have welcomed Nestle’s decision to join the ranks of organisations changing iconic brand names as the impact of the #blacklivesmatter movement continues.  

The Allen’s Lollies parent company confirmed this week it’s working to rebrand both its Red Skins and Chicos lollies. While new names have not yet been finalised, the FMCG giant said the decision recognised both brands strike a dissonant chord against both its own organisational values as well as wider consumer sentiment.  

The two product lines are only sold in Australia.

“This decision acknowledges the need to ensure that nothing we do marginalises our friends, neighbours and colleagues,” Nestle said in a media statement. “These names have overtones which are out of step with Nestlé’s values, which are rooted in respect.”

In a statement on Allen’s social page, the company took a more personal approach, saying the brand name change was about ensuring it keeps consumer smiling.

“At Allen’s we are about creating smiles. Today we announced we will change the name of Red Skins and Chicos lollies,” the statement read. “This decision acknowledges the need to keep creating smiles, ensuring that nothing we do marginalises our friends, neighbours and colleagues, or is out of step with our values.”

Nestle is one of a number of companies globally revising brand names and visual identity in response to the #blacklivesmatter movement and heighted protests against racial prejudice. A week prior to its announcement, 16-year old Western Australian brand, The Colonial Brewing Company, said it was reviewing its name after Blackhearts & Sparrow bottle shops on the Eastern sea board said they would stop stocking the beer because in protest against the brand’s “inappropriate” name.

Australian cheese producer, Coon, has also come under fire for what several perceive to be an inappropriate brand name in the current context. Calls for it to rethink the iconic name came after Australian comedian, Josh Thomas, kicked off debate around its meaning and appropriateness given the global movement against racial prejudice. However, as the company pointed out, name ‘Coon’ is derived from the founder, Edward William Coon, who patented a cheese ripening process used to make the company’s original cheeses.

At a global level, brands such as Uncle Ben’s, Pepsico’s Aunt Jemima and Eskimo Pie are all also reviewing imagery, symbols and names in order to respond calls against racially derogatory branding and iconography.

These decisions are all part of a wider response to the #blacklivesmatter movement, which has seen everything from statues to flags torn down across the US in protest in recent weeks as consumers revolt against racial prejudice.

Why brands are rethinking now

Commenting on Nestle’s decision and what it says about the wider industry context, Ogilvy Australia CEO, David Fox, told CMO change is the lifeblood of any living thing and a brand is no different.

“If a brand is unwilling to move forward or to change tact for whatever reason, then that brand is stagnant and will eventually lose its place in the hearts and minds of its consumers,” he said. “The world is constantly moving forward and this movement, fuelled by new generations of consumers, is not only questioning the past but they are doing something about it.

“In that vein, every brand should evaluate itself on how it shows up in society, no matter the category, and not just how it shows up on a spread sheet for the CEO. It has a responsibility to be trusted by its user group but also to not be offensive to those who don’t use it.”

BrandHook founder and CEO, Pip Stocks, agreed just as people change, so too does the culture that wraps us, businesses and brands. She saw Nestle’s move as an overdue and “very adult decision” to be more sensitive to current culture.

“We need to keep in step with how their consumers’ values and mindsets also evolve,” she said. “If a brand, its name, its whole experience is not in line with current culture then it certainly needs to adapt.

“Brands should be regularly measuring themselves and their performance based on current culture. The attitudes, needs and wants of their customers need to be at the centre of their strategic plan. When you spend time with your customers, who are real people, on a regular basis and listen - really listen - to how they feel about life, you understand the nuance changes in culture.”   

Stocks pointed out marches and protests like #blacklivesmatter don’t come out of the blue. “It’s frustration that has gone on for many years. Great brands know this and evolve accordingly,” she said.

House of Brand founder, Peter Drinkwater, also noted things that used to be swept under the rug are now in the spotlight.

“There is a very fast shift happening from the old patriarchal world to the new more inclusive world. It is a pity Nestle didn’t do it earlier off their own bat, but by taking immediate action shows you can at least respond nimbly to culture,” he said. “This is something brands always need to do to stay relevant and modern. Otherwise there is a risk of looking old-fashioned very quickly, which will affect sales.”

“It’s wise to always be thinking about these issues, and both brave and wise to act on them. And if not now, when?” VMLY&R chief strategy officer, Ali Tilling, asked. “It’s important that it’s not just how the brand shows up on shelf, though. It’s about how the brand’s employees are shaping its future, its cultural presence and thinking as much about the intangible elements as the tangible ones.”

Tilling emphasised brands are the culmination of what people make of them. However, that doesn’t mean changing everything on a whim.

“We know enduring assets like colour, logo, name and sometimes music or a mascot, are part of what makes a brand distinctive. These elements build ‘mental availability’, which is crucial because when it’s time to choose and buy, if a consumer has built a memory structure for your brand, they’ll be more likely to think of it an choose it,” she continued.  

“That doesn’t mean these assets can’t and shouldn’t change, though. A brand is also a cultural and organic thing. People know that if they don’t like your brand’s view or its name – or more importantly, they feel it reflects badly on them as a person  – well, they have more options than ever to make a different choice.”

How to keep in cultural check

In terms of advice for marketers looking at the current situation and heightened sensitivity to racial stereotypes and wondering about their own brands, Stocks recommended reading up on current issues and building hypotheses about what their brands can do as a consequence.  

“Then most importantly, talk to your customers about whether those things are in line with what they want,” she advised. “Although it is easy to review a big data dashboard, the answers will not be found in a percentage change in attitudes. The real insight will be found in the conversations brands have with people about what is important to them now and which brands they want to buy from and why.”

For Fox, the advice is simple. “If your brand name, imagery or the way your brand shows up in society is offensive to a culture, race, gender or any minority group, then the question is why and what are you doing about it?” he said.

“What right do you have to suggest your brand can ‘get away with’ offending any human being? If you do think you can get away with it, then it won’t be long until you are called out and then the damage will already be done.”  

According to Tilling, consumers and businesses in Australia still have a lot to grapple with in the area of racial and ethnic sensitivity. This is adding to the relevancy of the #blacklivesmatter movement on a local level.

"Indigenous people and ethnic minorities, disabled people and other groups are not well represented in marketing materials, in social media, or in agencies or indeed the corporate world," she said. "Now that’s a sweeping statement for a huge and systemic issue but it’s not just that it’s important, it’s that ignoring is not an option. Another challenge is our increasingly globalised world. Issues for one of us are issues for all of us, and that’s true both commercially for brands, and for all of us as human beings." 

Drinkwater said it's time to sure your history, founders’ story and brand purpose are all based on “new world” principles such as equality and inclusivity.

"If they aren’t, change them fast," he continued. "We actually feel the term brand 'positioning' sounds too static anyway. Brand are never static and actually should be 'mobilised' rather than 'positioned'. They need to always be responding to changes in culture to maintain contemporary relevance. Otherwise they will die off fast. 

"This year has shown us that continual reinvention needs to be a key part of a brand’s strategic planning more than ever."

Wider brand purpose

Brand cultural reflections also tie into the wider concept and importance of purpose as a key element for an organisation looking to resonate with consumers today. For Tilling, brand purpose is not about a lovingly crafted ‘why’ statement, it’s about behaviour.

“It’s the way values are lived by employees and the experience someone has with the brand,” she said. “People talk about brand purpose as the ‘why’ – Simon Sinek’s famous statement that ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’. I’d say now people aren’t buying what you do but they’re buying how you’re doing it and who and what you’re harming in the process.

“Ethics, and how those ethics intersect with technology and humanity, are increasingly key.”  

Stocks highlighted a great brand’s purpose is built on a customer/consumer insight, delivers to need and solves a problem. 

“Unlike creative expression that needs to adapt to keep up with the times, a brand purpose should be wide enough to hold the test of time. The language may change as culture evolves but it’s purpose should be everlasting,” she added. 

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia 

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