Recently, a friend and I were having lunch when I noticed an image on the side of her AriZona “Southern Style” sweet tea. It caught my attention because of the image used to brand this tea as southern–19th century steamboats on what we can probably assume is the Mississippi River.
I find it interesting that in 2013 that a company determined that it would associate “southern” with antebellum paddle-wheelers that were used to not only carry travelers, but tons of cotton cultivated by thousands of slaves. That’s when I did my research and discovered that AriZona had originally used an even more offensive image to suggest “southern style” when the product came out in 2008.
Back then, the tea was branded with the image
of the “big house” of a southern plantation, with a southern belle in the foreground. It was reminiscent of early advertising that incorporated images of the Old South–advertising tropes that are more than a century old. The original can rightly drew the ire of consumers for promoting an image of the Old South and the slavery that’s associated with plantations. It forced the company to change the image and make a public apology.
But why did the company approve the image of a plantation in the first place? Why did they follow it up with another image from the same era? I’d argue that it’s because the company, founded by two guys from Brooklyn, have no sense of American history nor do those in charge of its marketing understand modern southern culture. Rather, they rely on the same tired tropes of the South. Clearly, there’s some sense that the South not only hasn’t made it into the 21st century; it never made it into the 20th!
So, to marketing firms above the Mason-Dixon I say this: Come visit and quit relying on tired stereotypes. You’ll thank yourself and you won’t make stupid mistakes like AriZona.