Jacques Séguéla: “Uncle Ben’s is steeped in a story that we reject”

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, two figures familiar with the food industry, should soon disappear from supermarkets. Their black faces with bright smiles are today accused of conveying “racial stereotypes”. Aunt Jemima, an iconic black woman who has been decorating Quaker Oats’ bottles of maple syrup and pancake mixes for over 130 years, will soon be completely wiped out and the brand renowned, while theUncle Ben, he will simply have to “evolve,” said Mars, agrifood giant, without specifying what it would look like in the future.

According to the Americans who campaigned for their withdrawal, the two emblematic characters would be “constant reminders” of the slave and then segregationist past of the United States. These demands were formulated in line with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has resurfaced for more than a month in the United States, where millions of Americans have demonstrated to denounce police violence against Afro- Americans and more broadly racism in general and the legacy of hundreds of years of slavery.

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In recent weeks, debates – legitimate – around these questions have had consequences on cultural life and, now, on our lives as consumers. If the censorship around the filmGone with the wind have aroused a wave of emotion and indignation, especially in France, the changes made by the brands could be rather well received. Unlike the works engraved in their time, brands are called upon to evolve over time, as explained in Point Jacques Séguéla, famous French advertiser.

Point : In the United States, certain brands such as Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima have announced that they will change their visual identity so as not to perpetuate any “racial stereotype”. Are these brands giving in to street pressure?

Jacques Séguéla is the co-founder of the communication agency RSCG, absorbed by the Havas group in 1996.
© PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Jacques Séguéla: The brands obey the evolution of the time. It is common sense to recognize that a brand must not give up on subjects as sensitive as racism or slavery. In publicity, there is “public”, it must be understood that advertising is the sponge of time, but also the mood and the beauty of time. These brands do not give in to pressure from the street or social networks, they adapt to please as many people as possible and serve the product. Whenever possible, social relations between a brand and its consumers must be improved. As for those brands that are announcing a change in logo, they might even have had to do it earlier… Pierre Dac said: “It is often too early to know that it is not too late. To change a heavily connoted visual today is to apply this maxim.

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These developments do not mean that everything will change, certain ancestral values ​​will remain, but others will be added to them. We must strive for greener, more social advertising… This means, on the other hand, that we must rethink the entire commercial process: from product design to advertising. It is those who will be able to adapt to these values ​​who will win the consumer race, which too is changing. We are talking today aboutalter consumption, we will move on to consume less, to consume better, from global to local, all without disturbing the conscience of anyone.

Were the logos of brands like Uncle Ben’s or Aunt Jemima really racist in your eyes?

There is nothing racist in the name “Uncle Ben’s”. When the logo was created, there was a very filmic universe, we thought of Gone with the wind, to southern America, to the American Civil War. The logo itself was not racist, it is the visualization that we had of it that is responsible for these evils today. It is now steeped in a story that we reject today. So you have to think of a completely different, more modern, more universal Uncle Ben.

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It does not necessarily have to change skin color, but may lose some connoted attributes. Again, times have changed and brands have to adapt, as was the case with Banania. Before, it was advertising, these names, slogans and visuals were created to make people laugh, but today, that good heart has become of the bad spirit. This is why it is essential to initiate a transformation.

Should we fear an advertisement governed by a certain policy of thought, which will make political correctness an absolute standard?

It is all about limit and balance. When you are advertising, you do not have the right that a product starts to shock the conscience. You should not hit anyone and change terrain if this is the case, to avoid any graphics that could have racist overtones. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to exoticism or adventure! Obviously, we must fight against political correctness when it goes beyond its rights, but keep in mind that respect for the consumer must come first.

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