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Trader Joe’s and the Slow Death of Brand Personality

Update – Two weeks after this post was originally published, Trader Joe’s issued a new statement sharing that they do not consider these brand names to be racist and instead will be keeping them intact. 

I believe brands should act in human ways and have a personality. In fact, I wrote a book on it more than a decade ago called Personality Not Included, and I have long used Trader Joe’s as an example of how to effectively create and share a personality. From their unique “Fearless Flyers” to the way they have retitled ethnic foods with slight variations of their brand name, I enjoy the way they bring their brand to life. This week, thanks to pressure from an online petition, they will remove these “racist” versions of their logo from brand packages and go back to just using Trader Joe’s standard brand.

While I understand the sentiment behind the petition, to me the criticism seems misplaced. This is a brand that was unafraid to be playful and have personality, and now they are being accused of racism and forced to kill that personality in a small way. How will this affect not only their brand, but others that have been built with this same storytelling approach? It would be a marketing tragedy if brands become afraid to do anything to demonstrate their personality or have a sense of humor because of criticism like this. Yet this is exactly what may be happening right now, and it’s hard to watch at a time when we need more humanity and personality from business, not less.

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