Sunday, March 29th, 2015
In the early 1970’s one of the largest restaurant chains in the country was a pancake chain named Sambo’s. It had about 1200 locations. The owner’s family still claims “Sambo’s” came from combining the founders’ names Sam Battistone and “Bo” Bohnett, but people associated the chain with the 1899 book entitled Little Black Sambo. Today the company only has one location. There are probably many reasons why the business shriveled, but do you think the name Sambo’s was an asset to the business in the 1970’s and 1980’s as racial attitudes changed?
Apparently pancakes attracted racial stereotypes. One of the first widely successful food mixes for home use was the Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Early marketing campaigns claimed the mix was a secret recipe passed among slaves. Advertisements included depictions of “Aunt Jemima” as a “mammy” proclaiming things such as: “I’se in town Honey! Happy Days is here. Time fo’ dee-licious Aunt Jemima’s secret recipe – ready-mixed fo’ you!” The Company’s website has an interesting history page and includes these references:
“1989 In 1989, the image of Aunt Jemima was updated by removing her headband and giving her pearl earrings and a lace collar.
TODAY The Aunt Jemima products continue to stand for warmth, nourishment and trust – qualities you’ll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who care for and want the very best for their families.”
Quaker Oats, the owner of the Aunt Jemima brand, managed and evolved the brand and it has survived since 1889. People today find the brand’s old marketing campaigns offensive, but the brand did not die or suffer trademark cancellation. The owner managed the brand and it evolved with the times.
The Washington Redskins are insulated because unlike a restaurant or a food product, consumers cannot as easily avoid this brand, and the other teams still have to play against the team from Washington. The NFL clubhouse protects the team from suffering the same fate as “Sambo’s” restaurants. Maybe when sponsors and other team owners determine they are subsidizing Dan Snyder’s stubbornness he will be pressured into responsibly managing the brand. The Trademark Office is nothing more than a bystander. Since 1945 US law has prohibited the registration of disparaging marks. That law has not changed. Like hair styles and hemlines, the definition of “disparagement” will change with the times.