Recently, I wrote about the poorly-conceived marketing campaign for Glory Foods by The Brandon Agency (see: Black Domestic in a Can), a campaign that introduced a new generation to the stereotypical “black woman as mammy,” and reminds us of the Aunt Jemima of old. If this weren’t bad enough, the campaign also works as a critique of white women’s abilities in the kitchen. Miss White Lady, in one Glory Foods commercial, is a frustrated failure until a black woman (known as “Shirley” in radio ads and on the company’s website) shows up to save her in time to impress dinner guests. In another commercial, Miss White Lady also fails to satisfy her bratty children. And once again, she must be saved by the modern day mammy.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Fans of The Help will recognize in Shirley two different characters from the book. In one commercial, Shirley is essentially Minnie who rescues the bumbling, naive, and helpless character Celia Foote who cannot cook to save her life. In the second commercial, Shirley is something of a mix between Minnie and Abilene. She’s sassy like Minnie, but like Abilene she also fills the role of surrogate parent–taking charge and getting the children to “eat their vegetables.” Clearly excited about this campaign, Dan Charna, vice president of operations for Glory Foods is quoted as saying, “We hope everyone will invite Shirley into their kitchens via Glory Foods products.” (See, The Businesses Journal, April 11, 2012)
Thank goodness Dan Charna didn’t get his wish. The television campaign for Glory Foods, while it fails to understand the complex history of mammy in the kitchen, also insults white women by suggesting that they can’t cook and need help with their children. As one woman of color suggested in a discussion of these ads on Facebook, “It serves nobody to depict a ‘hapless white woman in the kitchen’ nor a ‘buxom black cook in the kitchen.’ It’s demeaning not only to each race but to women in general.” And from another woman of color, “There are [many] other ways you can sell Glory Foods without the maid/Jemima/mammy aspect. And I fail to believe that only white women are helpless when it comes to soul food.”
So, in sum, the campaign strikes a nerve on issues of both race and gender. And that’s too bad, because if Glory Foods makes a good product–and I have no reason to believe it doesn’t–then why resort to southern stereotypes of both black and white women?
The Latest: Since posting and tweeting about this ad campaign, the Brandon Agency has pulled the ads from television and YouTube, and “Shirley” no longer walks out onto the Glory Foods website to introduce herself. So, what does this mean? Neither the agency nor the company were able to “see” what I and others saw before rolling out this new campaign, and seem caught off guard by the criticism. To its credit, the agency is reassessing the campaign. So, we shall see.