Last year's celebration of Juneteenth, its debut as a federal holiday, was marked by parades, concerts, artwork, and more solemn commemorations of the ending of slavery in America. Walmart's contribution ahead of June 19 this year isn't going over quite as well. In fact, TMZ deems the retail giant's "Celebration Edition" Juneteenth ice cream an entry into the "Tone-Deaf Marketing Hall of Fame," a branding flop now on the receiving end of plenty of backlash on social media. Ad Age walks through some of the issues people have with the frozen treat, starting with the consumerist exploitation of a holiday with deep meaning to Black Americans.
"Would you like some Juneteenth Ice cream on a Juneteenth plate as you sip your beer in a Juneteenth Koozie?" comedian Roy Wood Jr. snarks on Twitter. Bridge—a diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative made up of corporate executives—wrote in an open letter: "Would you launch an ice cream called January 27? The day the world remembers the Holocaust[?]" Some note the appropriation of Black culture by a company owned by a rich white family, while still others point out there's already a Black-owned brand sold at Walmart of a similar red velvet/cheesecake-flavored ice cream, per Newsweek. And then there's the issue of a trademark symbol used after the word "Juneteenth" on the ice cream's packaging.
"Placing a TM and claiming ownership of the word 'Juneteenth' further exacerbates the lack of understanding of laying claim to something that represents so much to an entire population," Bridge notes in its letter. "Juneteenth simply cannot be owned." Walmart is now pulling the ice cream from its freezers and has issued a mea culpa. "Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence," the company said in a statement, per FOX 11. "However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize. We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate." TMZ notes Walmart is also launching a "Celebration Edition" flavor for Pride Month in June to give a nod to the LGBTQ community. (Read more Walmart stories.)