The Glory Foods Campaign Revisited: An issue of both race and gender

An image of "Shirley" is unavailable as are the television ads.

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.

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16 thoughts on “The Glory Foods Campaign Revisited: An issue of both race and gender

  1. I can understand why there would be concerns when it comes to debunking stereotypes. But would this mean that I, an African American male who also acts, should never perform the role of Hoke Colburn in “Driving Miss Daisy?” Should the Nealies relinquish their contract with the Food Network? Should owners of limousine companies who are of color not show their faces in an ad for their business? Should Miss Robbie Montgomery not have a show on OWN advertising her restaurants Sweetie Pie’s? Should every chef or caterer not use their likeness to represent their businesses?

    In similar dialogue with Tavis Smiley questioning actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer choices of roles as domestics in 2011’s “The Help,” Davis and Spencer held their own quite eloquently in a lively debate in support of black actors’ choices. (A clip can be viewed at: http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/02/viola_davis_to_tavis_smiley_in_debate_that_mindset_you_have_is_destroying_black_artists_video.html)

    I agree that there should be more care in how companies and ad agencies portray certain characters in commercials, etc. But, are we being overly sensitive and overreacting in some ways. Are we being aware or are we consciously “tagging” any reference to old stereotypes and responding by doing a 180 degree turn to go in the opposite direction? I am really trying to comprehend this.

    (NOTE: I’m a southerner who loves fried chicken – if prepared a certain way – and would rarely turn an opportunity to bite into the crispy morsels. However, I stay away from watermelon because I do not like the smell nor the taste, and I have NEVER been a fan of cornbread. Please don’t suggest that I not eat a piece of chicken in public!!)

  2. Mr. Nowlin, thanks for your comment. You never really said if you even saw the commercial, and I know that it’s been taken down from YouTube. So are you responding simply to the commentary without having viewed the commercial itself? I’d like to think that in 2012, we’ve moved beyond this type of advertising. Many of your questions above could be answered with a simple “no,” especially when they are not engaged in stereotype. For example, I don’t consider the shows you referenced as doing what the (white) advertising agency did for Glory Foods. And think about your question about owners of limousine services. I think the key word is that they OWN it, and should they use their own image to advertise, then it would be as business owners. I don’t think it’s being overly sensitive to what ad agencies do, especially in this case, because it goes beyond a Jemima-like stereotype and is insensitive to the history of black women in this country, not to mention making white women look foolish. As one of my best students asked (an African American woman) when she saw “Shirley” in this commercial, “Who’s at home taking care of HER family’s dinner?”

    • Of course, I had seen the commercials prior to post, which is also WHY I posted the comments, and I still stand behind my remarks..

      • And I stand by mine. The more recent commercials now have the character of Shirley in charge of the hiring at Glory Foods, a far more respectable image of black women than that of a modern day domestic modeled after characters in The Help. Thank you for reading and participating in the discussion.

  3. lol, if anyone knew how glory foods was really started and the illegal means that were taken to start this company i do not think anyone would support this company. SMH!
    SIGNED, SOMEONE WHO WAS THERE…

  4. My son worked on this commercial and I was present for most of the filming. It was produced and filmed with complete professionalism and integrity. The actress who portrayed Shirley was a consummate professional and a very hard working actress. I think it is an insult to her and African American women as a whole to say that her/their image in the kitchen is automatically reminiscent of “mammy” and “Aunt Jemima.” Did you see how she was dressed???? Did you see how she presented herself??? That was no mammy or Aunt Jemima. I think it is prejudice to see black women in a kitchen and immediately conjure up the image of a slave woman. I grew up in the south so I understand that this image comes to mind as we continue to defeat prejudices, here in the south, as well as nationwide, but, perhaps, it is the rush to this image that assists in perpetuating the stereotype, and not the roles themselves that hard working African American actors and professionals decide to take part in. Perhaps it is those, who allow this image to come to mind and remain, who should examine their own prejudices. Why is it that “mammy” came immediately to mind as opposed to the idea that perhaps Shirley is a famous chef who owns her own restaurant, chain of restaurants, and/or hosts her own successful TV cooking show….or, perhaps, instead of Aunt Jemima who saves the poor white lady, Shirley is the Owner/CEO of Glory Foods who is showing this person, who is not such a great cook, how her very successful product can help with cooking (which I believe is what the campaign was going for). After all, in the commercial, the mom states that the greens are “nothing like mom’s.” She doesn’t say “nothing like the black lady’s who still slaves away in the kitchen for us.” To all who worked on the campaign and commercials, but especally to the actress who portrayed Shirley, I am deeply sorry that such negativity was brought to this endeavor. I think it is a shame that you accepted and worked so hard on this role and that others could not move past the past in order to appreciate the character and what she may have represented.
    My son, looked up to this actress, not as a slaving black lady who could cooked and save a white lady, but as a hard working actor with great talent.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I don’t doubt that the woman who played Shirley is a fine person, and in subsequent commercials I’ve seen her in she plays a very respectable figure. And no, I do not “see” black women as mammy stereotypes–quite the opposite, which is why I found the commercial offensive. What she was wearing was beside the point. This was a 21st century commercial that portrayed a black woman as “kitchen help” for the white woman, which is steeped in a very long and very real history of injustice, low wages, and the lack of employment opportunities for black women in the years after slavery. (On that score, I recommend you and your son read Rebecca Sharpless’s book, Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens to gain a fuller understanding of black women’s work as domestic help.)

      You ask why Shirley as “Owner/CEO” or Shirley as a “successful restaurant owner” didn’t come to mind. I’d ask that you direct that question to the ad agency that created this fiasco. Why didn’t they consider making Shirley a respectable restaurant owner rather than someone coming to save the day in a white woman’s kitchen? Could it have to do with the fact that the ad agency itself doesn’t even employ an African American as an ad executive and therefore was clueless to the fact that it was perpetuating a stereotype?

      I think it’s interesting that within 24 hours of pointing out the problems with this commercial that it was yanked down from YouTube. Just because I wrote a blog post? Hardly. I don’t have that kind of power. Others besides me recognized what was going on and the agency clearly feared a backlash. For the record, I offered to meet with the owner of the Brandon Agency after he emailed me. I even offered to have him meet an African American woman who reacted to the commercial as I did. I would have listened to what he had to say about what the agency was thinking when it made this commercial, but he put it off and the meeting never materialized. I stand by what I wrote.

  5. I appreciate your response. I, too, stand by what I wrote. I would like to point out that I did not suggest that your blog/comments, alone, possessed the power to pull this ad campaign. I am sure it was one of many, which does show that this, of course, remains an issue in our society. It was merely your forum that I stumbled upon which allowed me to comment on this issue. I also appreciate the suggested reading material and am sure that it is very educational, insightful and informative. However, as a college graduate who took courses in black history and literature, but, mostly, as a person who grew up at the poverty level in a predominantly black community (of which I am very thankful and proud), I welcome, but do not need further education or insight in order to attempt to understand (white Americans can never fully understand) the past and, unfortunately, some present injustices suffered by black women. I, of course, educate my children on this issue, as well.
    As far as Shirley’s attire, I disagree that “what she was wearing was beside the point.” In film, TV, and commercials it is totally the point. Shirley’s character development and attire was anything but suggestive of kitchen help, although I mean no disrespect to domestic help, past or present, black or white; my mother, sister and I have all been previously employed as domestic help and I know several people, black and white, who are proud of their work. I believe the actress did portray a very respectable figure in the character of “Shirley.” Again, why is it assumed that she was kitchen help as opposed to a professional promoting her product? Just because she was black with a southern accent? Had she been white, same clothes, similar hair do, with a northern or nonexistent accent, what would have been the thought process? I am also not so ignorant as to not acknowledge that this stereotype would spring to the minds of those who watch the commercial. Given our unfortunate history, it would be strange if it did not. I had just hoped our country had moved a little beyond this. In order to move past these stereotypes, we need to acknowledge this thought process, but then realize that a southern black woman in a southern white lady’s kitchen can be so much more than kitchen help (again, meaning no disrespect to those in this vocation).
    I do believe that your thoughts, feelings and well educated opinions are all very well intended and do provide much to assist with overcoming stereotypes and prejudices. I just, respectfully, disagree with your overall interpretation of what this commercial intended, and believe that grasping on to our first thought of “mammy in the kitchen”, instead of of moving our thoughts forward as to who “Shirley” could be and that she may well be a respectable figure, perpetuates the stereotype instead of squelching it.
    I appreciate Mr. Nowlin’s thoughts on the matter.

    • Again, I would ask that you take the time to ask your questions of the ad agency, who you seem to be giving a pass. Try as you might, you cannot escape the historical antecedents of black women’s role in white women’s kitchens. And if you understood that this was a stereotype that would “spring to the minds of those who watched the commercial,” then why are you surprised by the response? Moreover, if a “southern black woman in a southern white lady’s kitchen can be so much more than kitchen help,” where’s the evidence in this commercial or in real life? Your response is similar to whites who suggest we should “get over slavery,” without understanding the long-term historical consequences of that system. Finally, I think it’s regrettable that you believe your education ended with a few courses in black history and literature. You’re really missing out on a great book!

      • I give a pass to no one. If you will carefully re-read my post, you will see that I have not tried to escape any horrible injustices of our country’s past, and present, and that I was not at all surprised by the response, just disappointed. I am not sure what evidence you are asking for. I would look to the intelligent, strong, successful African American women in our country. I am also unsure as to why my post leads you to believe that I think anyone is capable of getting over slavery. And why is it in quotes? I never said that. Slavery is an evil, abhorrent reality of our past that no one can ever get over. As far as my education is concerned, I am a life long learner who only meant to inform you that I, indeed, already had some level of education and understanding in this area, not that my education on this subject was ample enough to have no need of learning more. I am sure we have way more in common on our thoughts about the horrible suffering and struggles of African Americans…especially before they could even be acknowledged as such. It is actually kind of funny that I am sure that some of my friends who are black would totally see where you are coming from……but all of my friends, both black and white would think it laughable that I in any way would support a stereotype, prejudice, or think we should get over slavery.
        Keep up the good work, as only by discussing these issues can we try to find a way to move forward, while still looking back to learn from our past.

      • You took the “get over slavery” in quotes out of context. Perhaps re-reading the sentence would help. I suggested that your comments are similar to those who say such things. In other words, it’s as if you are asking us to get over our belief that this commercial engaged in stereotyping. And, some folks may find your defense of this ad disconcerting, because you seem to be above what is staring you right in the face. Thanks again for your posts.

  6. Nobody was criticizing the woman known as “Shirley” since Shirley came back and did a more respectable series of commercials hawking canned greens. We saw what the ad execs were hoping nobody would pay attention to and when they got called out for it (by us and others) they pulled it. It’s not about the actors or the people who worked on the shoot. It’s about the creative process and those who approved that embarrassment they called advertising.

    • You just did criticize her by suggesting she initially accepted the less respectable role as “Shirley,” unless that is not what you meant. The actors and the people who work on the shoot are not just pawns of the ad execs. They are a part of the creative process.

  7. Thank you, Karen and Nicole, for your measured and rational remarks. As to Mr. Nowlin, what a ramble all that was! I would like to leave a longer comment on the two posts from Ms. Wise. I am always suspicious of someone who is so audacious as to claim that she is right because she already knows all there is to know and does not need to learn anything more. Her hyper-defensive argument as the mother of one of the admen is a proud and self-righteous badge of willful ignorance. She is blaming the messenger (the blogger, Karen Cox) for the fact of the ad company’s and food company’s mistakes. These ads are offensive and depict historically stereotypical oppression. The company had the sense, when this was pointed out, to pull them. This attempt to go on defending them is, as I said, just more willful ignorance. Lee Wise’s claim to omnipotence is preposterous, of course. Let me repeat it here as an example of how NOT to make a valid point by chest-beating and claims to superiority. QUOTE: “However, as a college graduate who took courses in black history and literature, but, mostly, as a person who grew up at the poverty level in a predominantly black community (of which I am very thankful and proud), I welcome, but do not need further education or insight in order to attempt to understand (white Americans can never fully understand) the past and, unfortunately, some present injustices suffered by black women.” Blah blah blah blah. The Sarah Palinesque style would be funny if the words “I … DO NOT NEED FURTHER EDUCATION OR INSIGHT” were not buried in the midst of it.

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