Earls Restaurants is a popular casual dining chain with 64 outlets in Canada, Arizona, Washington and Colorado. Twenty-five years ago, they launched a whimsical brand of beer called Albino Rhino. I don’t know why they chose that name — maybe it had something to do with the white rhino’s keen sense of smell or the fact that it is endangered. One thing’s for sure; Earls didn't intend to demean or humiliate people with albinism. Yet, someone with albinism in British Columbia, Canada launched a human rights complaint. Now, Earls is pulling the Albino Rhino brand and considering a new name.
Changing the name of a brand is extremely rare and usually unwise. Even brands nearing death such as Brylcreem Hairdressing and Ipana Toothpaste have some equity left in them to generate profits for their owners. Enter political correctness. The controversy over American sports team branding and mascots has been going on for years. Some teams have made alterations such as the Washington Bullets, who became the Wizards. Currently, there’s a storm brewing ten miles down the road from the Wizards, at the home of their neighbors, the Washington Redskins. Frankly, dumping Redskins for another name will not effect stadium attendance or television audiences. It might even increase sales of vintage Redskins merchandise. I suspect this debate isn't resolving.
But, consider the impact of changing the nomenclature of Harley-Davidson, Nike, or Budweiser. Not only would there be an outcry by brand loyalists, there would be economic repercussions. Should Christian Brothers Brandy be worrying about upsetting Muslims, or the folks at Beefeater Gin fretting vegetarian unrest? This brings me back to Earls and the ease at which they threw in the towel. I’m assuming they either looked at the legal costs of going up against the BC Human Rights Tribunal or viewed the matter as fait accompli. The official Earls word on the matter is this: “We have learned from participating in the human rights complaint process that many persons with albinism are genuinely offended and feel that their dignity is negatively impacted by the use of the word ‘albino’ in our marketing.” I’m wondering if Earls’ education in human rights will change their hiring practices — the chain is known for its near-exclusive recruiting of young, attractive serving and hosting staff.
Today, people find reasons to get upset about anything in the name of political correctness. There are exceptions, but the complainers are either overly sensitive, looking for notoriety, or enjoying playing the role of s**t disturber. In the case of Albino Rhino Beer, Earls didn't have the backbone to take a stand. They buckled to the nonsense and opened the door for more frivolous cases of political ridiculousness against some of our favorite time-honored brands.