The religion and media site ”Get Religion” often talks about “ghosts” – that is, religious themes in news stories that are in the background but somewhow ignored or unnoticed by the reporter or publication.
Here’s an example I found today, from the Times’ Advertising columnist Andrew Adam Newman. It’s about Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, and its parent company’s attempts to undo the damage of a disastrous rebranding campaign:
A new wrapper introduced in 2004 not only significantly changed the logo and color scheme, but also removed the historically prominent “Goldenberg’s,” which was thought to sound too homespun for a national player.
Too “homespun”? Really?
I understand why no one at Just Born, the company that bought out the company, would have described the name as “too Jewish” — but you have to know that someone was thinking it. And not that there is anything wrong with that. I suppose if I were trying to bring a mostly regional brand to national prominence, I might have played down the Jewy, played up the chewy. Hell, an entire generation of Jews did just that. That’s how my grandfather got the last name “Carroll,” and why so few people remember Issur Danielovitch Demsky’s macho star turn in “Spartacus.”
So now Just Born wants to reclaim the Goldenberg’s name, and its mojo. Here’s the evolution of the Peanut Chews wrapper — the pre-re-branding version at the top, the updated deracinated one in the middle, and the new “old-school” makeover at the bottom (courtesy of SeriousEats.com):
But there appear to be a few other ghosts in the Peanut Chews rebranding story, if not of the religious than of the oddly ethnic variety. The new campaign for the candy at one point features this commercial:
After a middle-aged man wearing a button-down shirt tries the candy, for example, his outfit and mannerisms switch, and he wears a Kangol hat, baggy tracksuit and oversize gold chain and announces that the candy is “off the hook.”
The article doesn’t explain that the actor playing the man is Asian, and that he delivers the “off the hook” line with hip-hop gestures and a thick Asian accent.
This kind of ethnic mash-up can’t be unintentional. It sounds like someone at the ad agency, trying to reintroduce a product with an unmistakably “ethnic” name, wanted to emphasize that crossing religious and racial boundaries is perfectly acceptable in buying a candy bar. It’s how Levy’s Jewish rye bread joked its way out of the baked goods ghetto:
It’s a little curious that Newman doesn’t explore these ethnic themes, although if you don’t mention the Jewish thing explicitly it wouldn’t make sense anyway.
I’ve always felt a little proprietary about Peanut Chews. Years ago, when I interned at the Jewish federation in Philadelphia, baskets of Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews were placed on the table during fundraising drives, a gift of the local family that owned the company. I was thrilled, because I am lactose intolerant and the chews were some of the only mainstream candies that didn’t contain dairy.
And then — horrors — at some point in the 1990s Goldenberg’s changed its production methods and lost its “pareve” designation. As a company representative told a vegan web site in 2005:
The Kosher certification for Original PEANUT CHEWS was changed in the early 1990′s to OU-D [dairy], because they were and continue to be made on the same manufacturing line as Milk Chocolatey PEANUT CHEWS.
This was shocking news, akin to the hullaballo after Kraft changed the recipe for Stella D’Oro’s Swiss Fudge cookies — a popular pareve cookie. In that case, customer protests led Kraft to bring back the old recipe.
In the case of Goldenberg’s, let’s call it progress that a major company thinks a Jewish-sounding name has gone from liability to selling point. Although it is probably too much to ask reporters to call things as we obsessisiely Jewish Jews see them.