The Quaker Oats company was founded from the merger of several mills, and in 1877 became the first patented cereal (Quaker Oats, 2013). None of the original founders held any connection with the Quakers themselves (Religious Society of Friends) and the brand was named after the Quakers for their image of honesty, purity and integrity (Chick and Micklethwaite, 2011).
Original Quaker Oats identity
Current Quaker Oats identity
The Quaker brand has expanded greatly over the last 150 years, however the patented “a figure of a man in Quaker garb” still remains the primary image for the brand identity (Quaker Oats, 2013).
Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) today
Some Quakers are unhappy about this association, as not only is the breakfast cereal better known than the religious following, it also causes confusion. Society sometimes still perceives the Quakers to dress as the outdated man on the box, and similarly could assume a connection between the Quakers and Quaker Oats (Chick and Micklethwaite, 2011).
The impression from many Quakers is they appear to take this connection light-heartedly, as demonstrated by the references on many Quaker websites to both the man on the Quaker Oats box and the Quaker Oats cereal itself.
We mostly don’t dress like the man on the box of oats anymore . . . (Quaker Information Centre, 2013).
Never large in numbers and yet disproportionately influential, even today the Quakers are often stereotyped by images from Quaker Oats labels . . . (Coyner, 2002).
Though the practices of plain dress and speech made them known as a “peculiar people”, and the more widely-known Quaker Oats logo has caused many people to think plain dress is mandated, for the most part Quakers dress and speak in a manner indistinguishable from others. (The Religious Society of Friends, 2013)
This practice of continuing to associate with the Quaker image could be considered unethical as it demonstrates exploitation. Consumers will make the connection between the cereal and Religious Society of Friends, the brand associating with the positive attributes of the society.
However, while Quaker Oats are happy to have their brand utilise the positive qualities of the Quakers, they are not so amiable to the reverse. This exchange, between the Orange County Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and an attorney for Quaker Oats demonstrates the change of loyalty.
Previously Quaker Oats appropriated the Quaker name wanting to convey the qualities associated with the Quakers. Today however, on learning a company run by Quakers is using the name wishes them to stop as to not “weaken our very strong trademark”. While it transpired this was a misunderstanding it seems unethical that a company would want to build on another’s identity and then prevent them from using the identity themselves.
Furthermore, it could be argued that the Quaker Oats company may be detrimental to the Religious Society of Friends, for any negative press could affect the impression of the Quakers.
For example, an out of court settlement of $1.85 million was reached in 1997 between MIT and Quaker Oats and the children at the Walter E. Fernald State School who were subjects of a nutrition experiment involving feeding students the cereal containing radioactive tracers without parental permission (Hussain, 1998 and Anon, 1995).
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Anon, 1995. Suit alleges radioactive cereal was fed to retarded children. The Day, 7 December p.C9.
Chick, A and Micklethwaite, P., 2011. Design for sustainable change. Switzerland: AVA Publishing.
Coyner, T., 2002. Toyko Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. [online] Available at: http://www2.gol.com/users/quakers/ [Accessed 31st March 2013].
Hussain, Z., 1998. MIT to pay victims $1.85million in Fernald Radiation Settlement. [online] The Tech, 7th January. Available at: http://tech.mit.edu/V117/N65/bfernald.65n.html [Accessed 2nd April 2013].
Quaker Information Centre, 2013. Welcome. [online] Available at: http://www.quakerinfo.org/ [Accessed 31st March 2013].
The Religious Society of Friends, 2013. The Religious Society of Friends. [online] Available at: http://www.peaceforearth.org/SocietyofFriends/index.htm [Accessed 31st March 2013].
Quaker Oats, 2013. Quaker History: There’s a whole lot of history in our whole grain oat. [online] Available at: http://www.quakeroats.com/about-quaker-oats/content/quaker-history.aspx [Accessed 2nd April 2013].