Modern sensibilities catch up with an established cheese brand
In July 2020, following a long-running campaign by anti-racism activist Dr Stephen Hagan, Saputo Dairy agreed to rename its COON brand of sliced cheese. It may have taken them a while to engage but Saputo saw an opportunity to behave responsibly and to modernise their brand at the same time. To do otherwise would, as Dr Hagan remarked, be ‘normalising bigotry’ and that was surely reason enough to make the change. In January 2021, after further months of consideration, Saputo announced the brand would henceforth be known as CHEER.
There’s no time like a New Year for a relaunch and, having recognised how problematic the old brand had become, Saputo have handled this process well. They’ve kept control of the process and not allowed third parties to hijack their agenda. By spacing the announcement of the change from the launch of the new brand, they’ve let initial reactions and opinions dissipate and so given the new brand a chance to emerge clear of the controversy which beset its predecessor. The new name has clearly been chosen to minimise commercial and consumer disruption, having the same initial letter and being roughly the same shape and size as before. All in all, a textbook example of how to handle an awkward situation.
However, it must come as no surprise to learn that loads of people have loads of opinions about whether dairy producers should be allowed to update their brands to remove offensive connotations. For everyone who prefers not to be confronted with pejorative racial slurs on a daily basis in the dairy aisle, there’s someone who regards such a rebranding as a craven submission to sanctimony and groupthink.
Some people are clearly more resistant to change than others, yet it can’t have escaped even their attention that the most successful brands are those which are constantly adapting and evolving. As languages develop and societies change, brands must do likewise: classic children’s stories get updated to suit modern mores, sporting franchises dispense with outmoded imagery, institutions drop associations with unsuitable historical figures.
In an age of social media and brittle sensibilities, where anyone with an opinion can air it, brands can easily find themselves caught between rocks and hard places, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Treading that fine line has never been more difficult but anyone who finds themselves getting angry about a brand’s right to remain culturally relevant in the face of changing attitudes needs to remember they’re losing it over sliced cheese.