Skeletons in the Closet

It’s recently become legal to register a disparaging trademark but that doesn’t mean disparaging trademarks are new. Whether it’s the Washington Redskins®, Aunt Jemima®, or the Land O’Lakes® logo, lots of troubling marks have been around for a while* and are still blithely swimming in the deep end of the offensive pool.

IMG_1916.jpgScotch® was first registered for tape in 1948. The name originated from the offensive idea that people of Scottish descent are all thrifty

3M’s advertising even included comic strips featuring the embarrassing and creepy Scotty McTape who assured us that “It’s ‘Scotch’ brand! That’s the very tops — in thrift and quality.”


Colgate Palmolive currently sells DARLIE brand toothpaste in Asia but, in 1985 when it acquired the brand from Hawley and Hazel, it was DARKIE brand and the picture on the box depicted an image inspired by Al Jolson in black face.

While the change to DARLIE and the new image on the box is an improvement, the Chinese characters on the box still translate to “black person.”

IMG_1933.jpgNestlé® has updated the mascot to make it a bit less offensive, but maybe they should think about getting rid of it altogether along with word mark ESKIMO PIE, which some natives of Alaska, Canada and Greenland find offensive.

Companies find it hard to give up what they perceive as a valuable brand but I wonder it they aren’t clinging too long to offensive words and imagery at the risk of losing customers.


Big shout out to Max F. for suggesting this topic.


*Some disparaging marks predated the prohibition against registering them under the Lanham Act in 1946. Others simply weren’t considered disparaging at the time.

The image of “Darlie toothpaste over the year” is used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license from Thomaschiou.

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