Karen L. Cox: Black Domestic in a Can: A South Carolina Ad Agency “Helps” Glory Foods

[ed. note: This article is cross-posted from Pop South, where it was originally published on 4/17 with the YouTube video of the first commercial embedded in the post. As of 4/19, that video has been removed from YouTube by the user, so we cannot embed it here. Cox writes: “The Glory Foods commercials were removed within the last 24 hours following a Twitter message that I and a former student of mine directed to Scott Brandon of the Brandon Agency. I do not believe my blog on Pop South was solely responsible for the removal of these commercials, as the responses by viewers on YouTube were overwhelmingly negative. Neither do I believe the timing of their removal was a coincidence.”]

I wonder if you have seen these commercials by Glory Foods? It’s a company out of Columbus, Ohio, that specializes in canned goods they call “Southern food with a soulful heritage.” In one, there’s a frustrated white housewife in the kitchen and she’s having trouble in preparing dinner for her guests. What’s she going to do? Not to worry, a black woman (known as “Shirley” on the company’s website) busts through the door to help! As she prepares the food, a can of Glory collard greens, the white woman can relax. Not only does she have a black woman working it out for her in her kitchen, she’s got food that already has its southern seasoning. Even better, Shirley plans to stay hidden in the kitchen as she shouts to the white woman “Now get on out there, and take all the Glory!”

I thought this was an unfortunate commercial, until I saw a second and related commercial. It’s the same white woman, although this time her two children are involved, shouting and banging their forks and knives on the table. Who’s going to rescue Miss White Lady now? You guessed it, the canned black domestic.* She’s going to set those mouthy children straight, make sure they eat their vegetables, and guess who gets to take “all the glory?” Miss White Lady.

I wonder what is going on here, because it looks like Glory Foods is taking its cues from The Help. But this isn’t 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. I went to the website of the company and that’s where I discovered that this is a black-owned business with an African American CEO who has an MBA from Duke University. So what gives?

Who is the company trying to reach with these commercials except, perhaps, all those white women who read The Help and are looking to recapture some of that for themselves? It’s certainly an interesting marketing ploy. Perhaps that is the point. And guess what?

The Brandon Agency, a South Carolina-based advertising agency with offices in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and even Charlotte, North Carolina are behind the TV commercials. The agency was hired by Glory Foods back in February, which explains why these commercials have recently appeared in Charlotte. Take a look at the agency’s website and you’ll find something very interesting—the entire leadership team is white. That’s right. White “originalists” (the term the agency uses to describe company leaders and probably found in the bottom of a cocktail glass) from South Carolina came up with the Glory Food campaign featuring a modern-day Aunt Jemima.

However, this shouldn’t let Glory Foods off the hook. If this company were run by whites we’d be all over it with this analogy to The Help, which is why I don’t understand why Glory Foods and The Brandon Agency aren’t being called out for perpetuating this particular southern stereotype.

Maybe not enough people have seen these commercials or realize the underlying assumption (or history) of mammy in the kitchen. If they had, they’d be as concerned about this image of black women as I am.

*Thanks to La Shonda Mims for the phrase “canned black domestic.”

Karen L. Cox is associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is the author of Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture as well as Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, which won the 2004 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize for the best book in southern women’s history. You can become a fan of Dreaming of Dixie on Facebook and follow Cox on Twitter @SassyProf. Visit the author’s blog, Pop South: Reflections on the South in Popular Culture.