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February 23, 1989 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-02-23

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PERSPECTIVES

The Michigan Daily Thursday, February 23, 1989 Page 5

California

needs to

raise

Raisin

BY SHEALA DURANT
For years, many Americans have
grown up with the stereotypical
images of Black Americans in
advertising-particularly in the.pro-a
motion of domestic and food
products. Some of the more popular
spokespeople are, Aunt Jemima,
UnclesBen, Sambo and most re-'
cently, The California Raisins.
In the California Raisin com-
mercials, Blacks aren't even on the
side of a box or a billboard, but have
been reduced to singing, dancing clay
figures used to promote dried grapes
in some deranged vaudeville adven-
ture.
Since the California Raisins'
television debut in 1986 when they
- danced the conga while singing the1
'60s Temptations classic, "I Heard It
Through The Grapevine," people
have been bonkers over the Cali-
fornia Raisins. Following their
debut, Halloween parties were over-
run with people in garbage bags and
black tights proclaiming themselves
to be California Raisins.
I had a feeling something was
wrong soon after I saw them. My
first reaction upon seeing the com-
mercials, like most of America's,
was "Oh, how cute. Look at the little
raisins." This sentiment was fol-;
lowed by, "Wait a minute, those
aren't little raisins. Those are Black
people!"
Hence, I began my personal
boycott of California raisins and
products made with California raisins
(e.g. Hardee's biscuits).
Some fans of the Calfornia
Raisins argue that the raisins aren't
}Black because they don't use acutal
Black people but that is a moot
point. I interviewed several people
and most agreed that, upon close
visual observation, it is evident that
the Raisins were intended to represent
Blacks. Not only do the California
Raisins exhibit African facial charac-
teristics, but the voices of the actual
Temptations members are used for
the raisins.
I asked one friend if they thought
the California Raisins were depic-
tions of Blacks and they replied "Of
course they are and they use the
music of the Temptations too."
Another friend based their agreement
upon the fact that California Raisins
merchandise (you know, those little
dolls expected to yield $500 million
dollars in sales this year) "look like
Black people."
The California Raisins have put
Fresno, California, the hub of
California's $150 million dollar
raisin industry, on the map. An

article in the Wall Street Journal
stated that because of the com-
mercials "raisins are coming in
vogue...the ads appear to be the best
thing for the raisin industry since
raisin bread."
According to an article in the New
York Times, the ads "have not only
charmed TV viewers but have also
increasd the sales of raisins. And
that, after all is the bottom line."
The advertising agency of Cone &
Belding Communications has been
receiving tons of praise for the

Raisin Board even told Business
Week magazine that the claymation
raisins spots will be cheaper in the
long run because "we don't have to
pay the stars [raisins] royalties."
This is reminiscent of the all too
familiar exploitation of Blacks for
commercial purposes (e.g. Little
Richard). Even though the California
Raisins are only cariciatures, the
exploitation is still the same.
So, here it is a multi-million
dollar advertising campaign whose
bottom line is to make a buck. This

be complete without mentioning that
in the past, Black Americans were
actually referred to in derogatory
terms as "old raisins." Nef even said
that "People used to think of raisins
as dull, wimpy uninteresting little
dark things." What a correlation!
Would raisin sales have increased
had the advertising campaign been
launched without any Afro-American

influences? Perhaps white Americans
and advertising agencies are too used
to seeing Blacks dance and sing for
their entertainment like some sort of
minstrel show.
In my research and interviews, an
idea was proposed. Instead of whites
selling raisins via the use of stereo-
typical raisins imitating a Black
R&B group and calling it the

image
California Raisins, how about Blacks
getting the notion to promote saltine
crackers via the use of dancing
crackers imitating the country sing-
ing Gatlin Brothers and calling them
the Mississippi Crackers.
Somehow, given the images
Americans are used to seeing, I doubt
that cracker sales would boom Tike
raisins did.

SHH IHW--- BEVERY
Iz ::1r' Vk1

I".
TN

'People used to think of raisins as dull, wimpy
uninteresting little dark things.'
-Clyde E. Nef, Manager of the California Raisin
Advisory Board

advertising concept. The claymation
commercials were rated among the
best of 1986.
Claymation involves making
gradual changes-24 for each second
of film-in the clay figures. The
agency received a letter from a TV
viewer which read, "After watching
those little raisins dance, I'm a raisin
eater again."
Clyde E. Nef, Manager of the

is okay. But the fact remains that
this big media institution is using
stereotypical caricatures of Blacks to
sell dried grapes-of all things-and
don't care whether or not they being
offensive.
Current commercials are featuring
singer, Ray Charles and his Raylettes
but poor Ray can't even see how he's
portrayed in them.
A discussion on the visual image
of the California Raisins would not

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