New/Old Ways to Offend Indians: When Cars Assume Ethnic Identities

A story about Jeep bringing back the Cherokee model for 2014, using again the Native American tribal name in an offensive way.

"For decades, American Indian tribal names have helped to propel automobiles out of showrooms," writes Glenn Collins for The New York Times. "Return with us now to the era when Pontiac’s sales brochures carried illustrations comparing its 6-cylinder engines to six red-painted, feathered cartoon Indian braves rowing a canoe.

"Or review Pontiac’s marketing copy, which proclaimed that 'among the names of able Indian warriors known to the white race in America, that of Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas and accepted leader of the Algonquin family of tribes, stands pre-eminent.' Of course, the visage of the chief was appropriated as a hood ornament."

From the brochure collection of Steve Hayes/The New York Times

And returning to showrooms for 2014 is the Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee was replaced by Jeep with the Liberty in 2002, and many Native Americans were glad to see it go. But today, with all that's being debated over the use of offensive Native imagery, nicknames and logos in sports (see, for example, the Washington Redskins, Chicago Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo), why would Jeep make this move now?

Well, "market research"apparently tells them that there is a fondness for the Cherokee model name, so they're bringing it back to boost sales. Yes, it's all a profit game.

According to Collins, though, the company says it respects changed attitudes toward stereotyping. “We want to be politically correct, and we don’t want to offend anybody,” Jim Morrison, director of Jeep marketing said. Regarding the Cherokee name, he added: “We just haven’t gotten any feedback that was disparaging.”

Well, here’s someone writes Collins: “We are really opposed to stereotypes,” said Amanda Clinton, a spokeswoman for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. “It would have been nice for them to have consulted us in the very least.”

Giving the new Jeep its old tribal name may have seemed just another acceptable risk for the company. After all, any publicity may be good publicity, even if it's negative from the Native Peoples whose name is being used to market a vehicle.

“If you have a name that offends nobody, then you end up with a forgettable brand” that won’t cling to the memory, said Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of Landor Associates, a brand and corporate identity consultancy.

Read the entire New York Times article by Glenn Collins, which includes a photo gallery, by clicking HERE.

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