of this sort were not unusual before World War II. What was unusual about
Darkie was that its racist name and logo were still intact in 1985 when
Colgate bought the brand from the Hong Kong's Hawley & Hazel Chemical
Here's where the story
gets a little twisted. According to Alecia Swasy in her book Soap Opera,
Colgate's arch-rival Procter & Gamble learned about the sale and immediately
went to work to use it to their advantage. Both companies were releasing
a tartar-control formula that year, and P&G was happy to have the
opportunity to portray its rival as racist. It hired a public relations
firm to surreptitiously slip information to activists and newspapers about
Colgate's disreputable Asian brand.
The strategy worked.
There was a storm of uproar: Stories and editorials in major newspapers,
threats of boycotts, and even Eddie Murphy expressing his outrage on David
Letterman. Colgate was unfairly attacked for a brand it had just purchased;
however, the attacks became more and more justified as the toothpaste
giant dragged its feet on changing the brand fearing a loss of business.
Finally, nearly four years later, it announced that it was changing the
name to Darlie and making the man on the package an abstraction of indeterminent
The name change placated Western critics, who pointed out that the toothpaste
actually sold better after the name change. What they didn't know, and
apparently still don't, is that only the English was changed. The Cantonese
name ("Haak Yahn Nga Gou") still stayed the same, and the Chinese-language
ads reassured users that, despite a cosmetic change to placate those inscrutable
Westerners, "Black Man Toothpaste is still Black Man Toothpaste."