Early this year, Earls restaurant chain conceded to change the name of their signature beer ‘Albino Rhino’ to simply ‘Rhino’ due to complaints of discrimination against people who suffer from albinism. Initially, Earls fought against these complaints, stating that it had never occurred to the company that the name would cause offense; the brand was adopted from white rhinoceroses. However, Earls dropped their counter case and agreed to drop the ‘albino.’ This is a victory for Vancouver resident Ikponwosa Ero, who filed the complaint and suffers from this genetic disease.
In advertising then, this would fall under clause 14 of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. However, this brand name has been around for over 25 years! Why are people only complaining and crying now that this is violating human rights? In an article in the Globe and Mail, Ero compared the name ‘Albino Rhino’ to ‘an Alzheimer’s appetizer or a Down syndrome daiquiri.’ In my opinion this is not even comparable, or fair for that matter. These diseases are specific to humans only, and are far more severe and damaging to the body and mind than loss of pigmentation and sunlight sensitivity (no offense intended). I think it’s important to note that humans are not the only species to suffer from albinism, in fact, animals and other organisms suffer from this genetic disorder too. Where is their voice? Are they offended?
While I can understand Ero’s feeling of offense, I do not believe those feelings alone were just cause for the elimination of a staple brand of 25 years. To me, this brand does not fall under clause 14 of the ASC. The beginning of the clause states that:
“It is recognized that advertisements may be distasteful without necessarily conflicting with the provisions of this Clause 14; and the fact that a particular product or service may be offensive to some people is not sufficient grounds for objecting to an advertisement for that product or service.”
Clause 14 also has a variety of subsections, listed below:
“Advertisements shall not:
(a) condone any form of personal discrimination, including that based upon race, national origin, religion, sex or age;
(b) appear in a realistic manner to exploit, condone or incite violence; nor appear to condone, or directly encourage, bullying; nor directly encourage, or exhibit obvious indifference to, unlawful behavior;
(c) demean, denigrate or disparage one or more identifiable persons, group of persons, firms, organizations, industrial or commercial activities, professions, entities, products or services, or attempt to bring it or them into public contempt or ridicule;
(d) undermine human dignity; or display obvious indifference to, or encourage, gratuitously and without merit, conduct or attitudes that offend the standards of public decency prevailing among a significant segment of the population.”
Although ‘albino’ may be demeaning to those who are suffering from albinism, it is considered by some to be neutral. Just like any name or term, it will be offensive if there is malice and the intention to cause harm but the brand makes no such attempt in language or in visual metaphor to intentionally communicate any negativity. This term is subjective. Some find it offensive (i.e.) those who are albino, but to the majority it’s just a term to define a genetic condition.
If such offense can be taken from a simple brand name, what does the future hold for brand naming in general?
If albinos are offended by ‘Albino Rhino,’ African Americans should be offended by this ad for the same reasons.
Other examples similar to Albino Rhino are: Crazy Glue; offending those who suffer from mental illnesses, Black Label; again discriminating against Blacks, White Castle, and even Ginger-ale; discriminating against people with red hair (thanks to bloggers from websites listed below for their ingenuity).
In my opinion Earls has not made any mistakes naming their brand of beer ‘Albino Rhino.’ In fact, using a word from the English language creates associations and connections with what is out there in the real world.
To me, the term ‘albino’ is associated with the color white, something rare and unique. I assume whoever created this brand had the same connections. The rhyming is pleasant to pronounce – and this isn’t just to be cute. Rhyme priming activates similar sounds and therefore become associatively linked. This is very clever on the advertiser’s part. The brand is not only fun to say but easy to remember.
Admittedly it carries the associations of the genetic disease – no ambiguity here. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Using a common noun can actually prime a brand. For example, when people hear the word ‘albino’ they will associate this with the beer.
Naming a product by an already existing name is genius in the world of advertising – provided they choose an appropriate name. Earls did just this – it’s just an unfortunate ending to an inventive and clever beginning.
Today, it’s nearly impossible to always be politically correct; to never offend anyone with a word. One thing you say or do will eventually offend somebody, intended or not – that’s the nature of the beast. I have been skinny my entire life – and since I was nine years old up until now (twenty-seven), every once and a while someone makes me cry by calling me too skinny. Okay, so skinny isn’t the same as the genetic term albino, but anorexic is. And when someone says you look disgustingly skinny – anorexia is most definitely implied. So does that mean I should tell Starbucks to stop calling their low-fat lattes ‘skinny’ because the term makes me cry when it’s directed towards me? Absolutely not – skinny and albino are just terms; they do not define who you are – but they will if you let them.