July 13, 2010

Plains chief on pemmican package

Blogger Stephen Bridenstine describes what he saw during the World Cup:

A Tale of Pemmican, an Indian, and the World CupDuring a match, the electronic billboards that surround the playing field flash through advertisements of the official sponsors. The Seara ad consisted of the Seara corporate logo (above), the word Pemmican in big bold letters, and a stereotypical Indian replete with warbonnet.

During the most-watched sporting event in all of television, I find myself staring at a giant Indian head. Why on earth is there a giant cartoon Plains Indian with full headdress on the sidelines of the World Cup in South Africa???
He looked into it and discovered it was an ad for this:

This is a product you can see at many supermarket checkout stands. It's the type of thing I don't bother to criticize because it's so commonplace. But Stephen describes what's wrong with with the packaging:As the marketers see it, an Indian makes the perfect mascot for their dried meat product. Besides the obvious attempt to give an air of authenticity to their jerky by tying it to real Native food, they are moreover trying to tie their product to America's broader love and admiration for the "traditional" Indian. The outdoor nature imagery of the website and the camping gear prize in "The Outfit Your Escape" sweepstakes fall into this trap of associating the Indian with the natural and the primitive. It's almost as if they're still out there riding around on horseback hunting buffalo, ready to create that real Pemmican just for you. (And if you eat the authentic stuff, you're one step closer to living that idealized primitive life, close to the land!)Comment:  This "close to nature" rationale is the reason many companies feature a Plains chief on their products. It's the same thinking Stephen noted in survival schools with Native themes.

A related rationale is the "wild and free" one. When the product is something "strong" and "manly" like a car, motorcycle, or alcoholic beverage, this is probably what the marketers are thinking.

Again, few companies would use other 19th-century ethnic stereotypes--African spearchucker, greedy Jew, Chinese coolie--on their products. But no one thinks twice about using an equally stereotypical Indian image.

The ubiquity of these images is exactly why many so people think Indians are primitive savages or dead and gone. It's difficult to think anything else when countless images reinforce the message.

For a related packaging problem, see Nestlés Redskins Candy. For more on what's wrong with Plains chiefs, see The "Honor" of a Plains Chief. For more problems at the World Cup, see Indian Headdresses at the World Cup.


Stephen Bridenstine said...

In case anyone's interested I got a response from the company posted in the comments section on my blog:


Rob said...

For more on subject, see: