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.

Black Domestic in a Can–A South Carolina Ad Agency “Helps” Glory Foods

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  After tweeting Scott Brandon of the Brandon Agency about these offensive commercials, they have been removed from YouTube.  Coincidence?  I think Pop South as well as viewer comments must have gotten their attention. (4/19/2012)

I wonder if you have seen these commercials by Glory Foods?  It’s a company out of Columbus, Ohio, that specializes in canned goods they call “Southern food with a soulful heritage.” In one, there’s a frustrated white housewife in the kitchen and she’s having trouble in preparing dinner for her guests.  What’s she going to do?  Not to worry, a black woman (known as “Shirley” on the company’s website) busts through the door to help!   As she prepares the food, a can of Glory collard greens, the white woman can relax.  Not only does she have a black woman working it out for her in her kitchen, she’s got food that already has its southern seasoning.   Even better, Shirley plans to stay hidden in the kitchen as she shouts to the white woman “Now get on out there, and take all the Glory!”

I thought this was an unfortunate commercial, until I saw a second and related commercial.  It’s the same white woman, although this time her two children are involved, shouting and banging their forks and knives on the table.  Who’s going to rescue Miss White Lady now?  You guessed it, the canned black domestic.*  She’s going to set those mouthy children straight, make sure they eat their vegetables, and guess who gets to take “all the glory?”  Miss White Lady.

I wonder what is going on here, because it looks like Glory Foods is taking its cues from The Help.  But this isn’t 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. I went to the website of the company and that’s where I discovered that this is a black-owned business with an African American CEO who has an MBA from Duke University.  So what gives?

Who is the company trying to reach with these commercials except, perhaps, all those white women who read The Help and are looking to recapture some of that for themselves? It’s certainly an interesting marketing ploy.  Perhaps that is the point. And guess what?

The Brandon Agency, a South Carolina-based advertising agency with offices in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and even Charlotte, North Carolina are behind the TV commercials.  The agency was hired by Glory Foods back in February, which explains why these commercials have recently appeared in Charlotte.  Take a look at the agency’s website and you’ll find something very interesting–the entire leadership team is white.  That’s right.  White “originalists” (the term the agency uses to describe company leaders and probably found in the bottom of a cocktail glass) from South Carolina came up with the Glory Food campaign featuring a modern-day Aunt Jemima.

However, this shouldn’t let Glory Foods off the hook.  If this company were run by whites we’d be all over it with this analogy to The Help, which is why I don’t understand why Glory Foods and The Brandon Agency aren’t being called out for perpetuating this particular southern stereotype.

Maybe not enough people have seen these commercials or realize the underlying assumption (or history) of mammy in the kitchen.  If they had, they’d be as concerned about this image of black women as I am.