The Cherokee Nation calls for Jeep to remove the name from the car
This has been a bad media week for the SUV brand.
Jeep is, one could argue, as American as apple pie and baseball. The all-terrain vehicle was created to help American troops navigate the European theater during World War II. And over the next eight decades, the Jeep brand became synonymous with ruggedness, individualism, and a little bit of racism.
In 1974, Jeep introduced the first “sport utility vehicle,” and named it the Cherokee. On the eve of a new Cherokee, and amid the national conversation over race, catapulted by the death of George Floyd last summer, the Cherokee Nation is speaking out and asking Jeep to change the name of the car.
In a statement to Car and Driver, Chuck Hoskin, Jr, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation said:
“I’m sure this comes from a place that is well-intended, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car. The best way to honor us is to learn about our sovereign government, our role in this country, our history, culture, and language and have meaningful dialogue with federally recognized tribes on cultural appropriateness."
The Cherokee Nation, with more than 380,000 tribal citizens world-wide, is the largest federally recognized tribe in the country, and accounted for more than $2.16 billion economic impact on the Oklahoma economy in fiscal year 2018.
Jeep is the latest brand to face pressure to change a racist name. The Washington Football team dropped its decades-long racial slur of a nickname; the Cleveland baseball team is dropping “Indians” from its name; Aunt Jemima was replaced by Pearl Milling Company; Land O’Lakes removed the Indigenous woman from its logo.
"I think we're in a day and age in this country where it’s time for both corporations and team sports to retire the use of Native American names, images and mascots from their products, team jerseys and sports in general," Chief Hoskin said in his statement.
Told of Chief Hoskin's call to end the use of the Cherokee name on its cars, Jeep said in a statement, "Our vehicle names have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride. We are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr."
But [Amanda] Cobb-Greetham, who is a member of Chickasaw Nation and stresses the Cherokee Nation's sovereignty in choosing how to respond to the use of its own name, takes a different view: "If you're going to honor somebody, give them an award. If you're going to name a product after them, you're selling."
An official with Cherokee Nation says representatives from Jeep reached out to Chief Hoskin via phone earlier this month, but the nation's stance on Jeep's use of the name has not changed.
Jeep has spent the last 45 years highlighting the expanse of the American landscape in its ad campaigns, often drawing an implicit link to perception of Indigenous tribes’ connection to the land.
And so far, this year, things are not coming up Milhouse for Jeep. The company decided to pull its Super Bowl spot, starring another American icon, Bruce Springsteen, after the Boss was charged with drunk driving.
The spot, which NPR labeled as “Most desperate use of an iconic rock star: Jeep's ‘The Middle’ starts off by showing a road slicing through the middle of your screen, and centers on a church in the middle of Kansas, in the middle of America. The metaphors, they are thick:
We see his worn cowboy boots and hear his rough-hewn voice before we see him. But there's no mistaking Bruce Springsteen's world-weary words as he pleads with viewers to "come meet here in the middle." Decked out in a simple coat, driving around an old Jeep, Springsteen conjures every ounce of his working-class hero legend to deliver a message aimed at bringing left and right together one month after a group of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building. "We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground," he intones, driving through deserted rural areas and a snow-covered city center. Well-meaning as this message is, it feels less like an inspiring call to unity than an unsure plea for sanity at a time when it is tough to know if anyone is really listening.
The ad came together after a decade of Bruce saying ‘no,’ finally saying ‘yes’, CNBC reported:
That is until Southfield, Michigan-based ad agency Doner pitched the idea of “The Middle.” After contacting Landau to say Happy New Year in early January, [Oliver] Francois [Jeep parent company Stellantis’ CMO] decided to send the ad agency’s pitch to him. Francois said Landau, upon receiving the pitch, believed it was “the right message.”
“Yes, he takes a stand, but he takes a stand for the middle,” Francois said. “It is not liberal. It is not Republican. It is just something that is trying to stand for the nonpolitical. The common ground.”
(Aside: notice how the CMO puts an equivalence of liberal and Republican, as opposed to Democrat and Republican, or liberal and conservative. Language matters.)
But after the spot ran, reports came out that Bruce was arrested allegedly for driving while intoxicated, which then forced the company to pull the spot from linear and digital channels.
At the time, Jeep said:
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate. But it’s also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established. Its message of community and unity is as relevant as ever. As is the message that drinking and driving can never be condoned.”
Yesterday, Variety reported, after a hearing in federal court in which Springsteen pled guilty to consuming alcohol in a restricted area, the DUI and reckless driving charges were dropped, Springsteen was fined $500 and Jeep reinstated the ad.
“As we stated previously, we paused the commercial until the facts were established,” a rep for Jeep wrote in a statement to Variety. “Now, that the matter has been resolved, we are unpausing the film.”
Jeep sold 135,855 Cherokees across the country in 2020, down 29 percent from the previous year. With a pandemic casting a long shadow across all aspects of business, having a branding issue that puts your company as a racist, while also having a swing and a miss for an ad campaign, the outlook for 2021 doesn’t seem great.
A simple solution could be to listen to the Cherokee Nation and just remove the name.
(Disclosure: I owned two Jeeps; a 1991 and a 1995 Cherokee. Here’s me sitting in a Jeep in Israel with aviators and a machine gun in 1987. They used to let kids do anything back then.)
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Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalita”
Some interesting links:
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For righting wrongs:
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For setting up a progressive media network:
Inside the new $65 million push from progressives to compete with conservative media (Recode)
For problems with the cyborgs:
Growing computer-chip shortage alarms Biden and Congress (WaPo)
For inside the NYT newsroom:
The New York Times paints a grim picture of its own workplace culture (CNN)
For future of the web:
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For future of journalism:
With the Loss of Physical Newsrooms, How are Young Journalists Faring? (Nieman Reports)
For Facebook v. Apple:
Facebook launches ad campaign to defend personalized advertising ahead of Apple privacy change (CNBC)