Darlie Toothpaste to Rebrand, Distances from Racist Roots

By Rakini Bergundy, June 19, 2020

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Consumer brands are beginning to grow more introspective after weeks-long protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in the US. 

Bloomberg reported that controversial Colgate-Palmolive-owned toothpaste brand, Darlie, will finally be rebranding. Darlie is one of the best-selling toothpastes in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The origins of this toothpaste began in Shanghai of 1933 when Hawley and Hazel Chemical Company began marketing what was then called Darkie, a brand whose logo was inspired by the goofy image of American minstrel performer Al Jolson. He was a vaudeville legend who built his career mocking black people for white audiences in the mid-20th century.

Despite Darlie updating their logo in 1989 to a more ethnically ambiguous man and changing the ‘k’ to an ‘l’ in the English name, the Chinese name to this day remains 黑人牙膏 which transliterates to ‘Black Person Toothpaste.’

In an email to Bloomberg, Colgate-Palmolive stated, 

“For more than 35 years, we have been working together to evolve the brand, including substantial changes to the name, logo and packaging. We are currently working with our partner to review and further evolve all aspects of the brand, including the brand name.”

Although Reuben Mark, the then-CEO of Colgate in 1989 acknowledged the problematic name and design, the Chinese name was not changed as “Chinese consumers... perceived [the brand] as trustworthy, international, modern and premium,” stated Darlie’s regional marketing director. He told SCMP, “The direct translations of the Chinese brand name to English terms ‘Black Man’ or ‘Black Person’ are not the best representation of our intent, and they may lead towards a different connotation due to cultural differences.” 

Other US brands who will also be overhauling their branding are Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth, Cream of Wheat and Uncle Ben’s.

READ MORE: The Dark History of Darlie Toothpaste

[Cover image via Wikimedia]

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