Land O’ Lakes Branding: Thoughts on the Butter Maiden

Have you ever become aware of something, like a certain make of car or a type of clothing, and realized your suddenly noticing it everywhere, despite never paying any attention to it before? My Native Peoples of North America course has affected me this semester in this way at a place I generally don’t apply my higher education; my refrigerator. Despite having never payed attention to it before, the shells fell from my eyes one day as I opened my fridge for a snack; clear as day, I realized that there was a Plains Indian woman on my eggs and butter. 

Image
Now, I do not know very much about Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 lakes” where Land O’ Lakes, INC is based, and we have yet to discuss Plains Indians in class, so maybe you readers can enlighten me, but I don’t think any American Indian tribes from Minnesota have a history of producing or selling dairy products. So it strikes me as a bit odd that a company would use an Indian woman draped in generic Plains Indian garb holding a name-brand (of course) box of butter to entice shoppers into purchasing their brand. 

After doing some googling, I learned that the woman is referred to as the “maiden” and her image was updated by a Red Lake Ojibwe artist named Patrick DesJarlait in the 1950s. So wait a minute, I need to re-holster my guns here. This leads to some interesting questions. 

First, what is the significance of having a Native American create the logo for Land O’ Lakes? Maintaining that logo for over 50 years could be a kind of homage to Native Americans, I suppose, or at least to the Ojibwe artist. It also probably means the image is more sensitive to Ojibwe Indian culture than I presupposed. But the Ojibwe people in all probability did not churn and sell butter or other dairy products, so I wonder if they are connected to the company somehow. This is my second question – is there any sort of arrangement between Land O’ Lakes and the Ojibwe? If they get to have a Plains Woman on their products and call her the “butter maiden,” it seems like the Ojibwe should get something out of it. Maybe special consideration for jobs with the company, or product discounts, or a check in the mail (ha). It would at least be a kind gesture on behalf of Land O’ Lakes to somehow contribute positively to the Ojibwe people. 

My final question is what do the Ojibwe and other American Indians think about Land O’ Lakes? Are they offended because it poorly characterizes their people, proud that an American Indian designed the art, or indifferent because it is just dairy and is largely irrelevant? I may very well be creating a problem that doesn’t exist, but I would love to hear from an Ojibwe or other American Indian about what they think. It would also be interesting to hear from Land O’ Lakes to see what their goals are in branding themselves with the butter maiden. 

I like to believe that no one draws cultural knowledge about the Ojibwe from their dairy brand. But Land O’ Lakes may be inadvertently contributing to misinformation about American Indians through their usage of the butter maiden. I will leave you readers with this question: does it appear that the butter maiden is positive, beneficial brand imaging that people enjoy having on their dairy products, or is it offensive, alienating branding that leaves people apprehensive to choose Land O’ Lakes over other brands? 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

-Phil

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One thought on “Land O’ Lakes Branding: Thoughts on the Butter Maiden

  1. Great questions, Phillip. I would think that having the image drawn by an Ojibwe artist makes it more culturally sensitive, but it is also 50 years old. Have you been able to find any information about current Ojibwe thoughts on this? That, of course, is the most important opinion in this case. We can get as offended as we want or feel that something is okay, but it’s the group that is represented that matters. The current debate on sports logos is a good example.

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