Banania no like racism - tweaks ad slogan

2nd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - The French makers of a popular chocolate and banana drink have bid farewell to its 80 year-old advertising slogan after a pressure group threatened to take the company to court for racism.

PARIS, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - The French makers of a popular chocolate and banana drink have bid farewell to its 80 year-old advertising slogan after a pressure group threatened to take the company to court for racism.

Nutrimaine, which manufactures the Banania breakfast drink, said this week it has given up the copyright on the well-known catchphrase "Y'a bon Banania" — mock-French meaning "Me like Banania."

Uttered by a broadly smiling black colonial soldier, the slogan first appeared on advertisements in 1915. It was last used in 1977, but Nutrimaine was paying an annual fee to protect the copyright and the brand still uses the image of a smiling black face in a red and blue fez.

A collective from France's overseas territories — where most of the population is black — filed suit before the Paris courts claiming that the advertising "contravenes public order because of its racist character and offends human dignity."

"The brand conveys a pejorative, degrading and racist image towards people of black colour whom it portrays as ill-educated, inarticulate and barely able to string together three words of French," according to the writ from the Collective of Caribbeans, Guyanese and Réunionnais.

"Use of the slogan since early in the last century has been so influential that some people now associate Banania with skin colour. This deplorable caricature has led to hurtful insults against black children in schools and in the street," it said.

Nutrimaine, which bought Banania from the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2003, agreed that the slogan "Y'a bon" could be seen as offensive but said that it intends to keep the image of the smiling black face.

"Slogans are there to sell, not to put off a large part of the population. Advertising is a reflexion of the times, so slogans have to evolve," said chief executive Thierry Henault.

"The current image of a young African who represents the grandchild of the original soldier is not a problem in itself. It was its association with the slogan that was demeaning," he said.

It was unclear if the decision to drop the slogan but not the image would satisfy the collective.

The row came at a time of heightened sensitivity in France over the colonial past. Last week President Jacques Chirac asked for a law recognising the "positive role" of colonialism to be struck down, and on Monday he declared an annual memorial day for the victims of slavery.

Members of the overseas collective were also behind a demonstration in December to denounce the French emperor Napoleon, who they said was guilty of hundreds of thousands of black people's deaths.

Made from a mixture of banana flour and cocoa, Banania was brought to France from Nicaragua in 1912. It became popular during World War I, when the traditionally dressed Senegalese infantryman serving with the French army was an instantly recognisable figure.

Vintage Banania advertisements, boxes and crockery are today highly prized by collectors.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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