The face that launched a thousand cake mixes is about to get a historic make-over as part of her 75th anniversary.
Whether Betty Crocker's new visage will send consumers sailing for the grocery shelves remains to be seen. But one thing seems certain: The new Betty Crocker will depart from her 75-year-old ,, tradition of looking overly middle class -- and very white.
"We're sure to get a much more ethnically diverse looking Betty Crocker. She is intended to represent the women of America, and a lot has changed about women in America since the last portrait was done," said Barry Wegener, director of communications for General Mills, the Minneapolis-based food products giant that has marketed the Betty Crocker line since 1921.
This new -- what some are calling politically correct -- Betty Crocker will make her debut on boxes of selected products in February.
The seven different images of Betty Crocker -- one of the great icons of modern American marketing -- that have graced General Mills products since 1921 have come from artist's representations of what they thought the quintessential American woman looked like.
The new Betty Crocker image will be brought to the buying public by computer wizardry.
Specifically, the new Betty will come from an amalgamation of photographs that the company is inviting women nationwide to send in as part of a contest, said Mr. Wegener.
Women age 18 and older have until Oct. 16 to send in their photograph, as well as anecdotal evidence that shows they like baking and cooking, are committed to family and friends, are resourceful and creative in everyday tasks and are involved with their communities.
A panel of General Mills judges will select 75 women and then arrange for them to have their portraits taken -- all from the exact same angle. Those photographs will then be fed into a computer program that will merge, or "morph," the best features from those 75 profiles into one image.
The resulting face, predict some diversity experts, will be a woman with a slightly tan complexion, Asian-looking eyes and a slightly broader nose. Her hair length may also come down lower than today's just-below-the-ear length. These features should appeal to the growing Hispanic, Asian and black markets.
"We expect the new Betty to look like a distant cousin of the current Betty," Mr. Wegener said.
"We're not out to be revolutionary, just evolutionary."
The current Betty Crocker has been around since the seventh make-over in 1986. That result: a 30-something looking, brunette-haired, blue-eyed white woman with a friendly, but businesslike smile.
"This is really fascinating. How will they come up with an image that will appeal to all groups and yet not alienate their longtime customers?" said Jane Keller, an image expert and a professor in the school of communications design at the University of Baltimore.
She is one of many product identity experts who agree: Betty Crocker needs an overhaul.
"The challenge they face is overcoming the images of Betty Crocker that are ingrained in a lot of women's minds today: hopelessly old-fashioned," she said. "A woman who never got with the program and is still at home baking fattening cookies and vacuuming. It's not what I would call a very positive image for today."
Tinkering around with such a lasting icon of American business has marketing experts abuzz over whether General Mills is setting itself up for a fiasco like Coca-Cola's legendary blunder when it issued "New Coke," which consumers royally rejected.
"This is a real strategic issue. The degree to which consumers get attached to these icons is far greater than many people realize," said Robert Krapfel, a marketing professor at the
University of Maryland Business School in College Park.
Russell Adams, chairman of the African-American studies program at Howard University in Washington, sees another risk in the venture.
"This kind of reminds me of what Disney did with the Pocahontas image," he said. "They tried so hard to get a diverse-looking woman but ended up with a Pocahontas that looked a whole lot more Asian and Hawaiian than any Native American ever looked. She ended up having no identity at all."