The real issue with Chobani “Greek” yogurt: from a Greek’s perspective

Cultural marketing, I assume, is difficult.  Especially when you’re trying to take items from one culture and use it to market to the masses.

What do I mean?  Try the Athenos “Yiayia” campaign that caused quite a bit of controversy over the portrayal of the “yiayia”.  Yiayia, in Greek, means grandmother, and typically, this woman is the matriarch of the family.  I’ve made my own pokes at the Athenos team on Twitter, asking them if they actually have a Greek on their team that is advising on how yiayia is portrayed, the things she says, etc. etc.  I haven’t received a response from the brand, nor would I expect to, because – even if the person at the top pulling the trigger is Zeus, from the southern-Greek island of Crete, or Alexander the Great, from the northern-Greek region of Macedonia, themselves –  PR probably won’t let them respond to my Twitter musings because a. they might say something they shouldn’t and there is a possibility someone misconstrues something or b. the fire will be fueled and we will revive the previous criticism they received from The Greek Institute as covered by USA Today.

Okay, that might be hard, but add another layer.  Take from one culture and blend it with negative experiences with another culture… and then… market to the masses!

If you know me, like we’re friends and share-crude-humor-together-know me, you’ll be aware of my passionate distaste for Chobani Greek Yogurt.  I’ve actually never had Chobani nor any of the other cool and hip Greek yogurts because my yiayia’s yogurt is actually Greek yogurt and you can’t bottle and market that.  Anywhoosle… I have a problem with Chobani because it’s “Greek” yogurt (I have the same problem with Oikos, but for different reasons).

The founder of the company, Hamdi Ulukaya (note: not Ulukanis or Ulukanakapolis or Ulukanakis or Ulupapadopoulos) started Chobani. That’s still on their current website. Who cares? No harm.

Okay, so I had to do some searching for this… I had to use the Wayback Machine because since the last time I checked the Chobani website, it has changed (probably because of backlash by Greeks like me).  Good for them (no really, because their marketing team should have done a little more cultural research before going these routes).

Here-in lies the rub:

Their awesome-ly “Greek” yogurt is also made in the hills of… New York???  And by a guy named, Mustafa???? (Wayback Machine capture of from June 2012, as it’s currently changed)  Image

According to their (old) website, the word Chobani means shepherd in Greek: “The pair decided on the name Chobani after it came to Hamdi during a three-hour, snowy drive to a meeting.  Chobani, spelled “chopani,” is the Greek word shepherd, and is a symbol of safety and good” (Note: I pulled this from the Wayback Machine too, because someone on their team knew they needed to pull that from the current site, for obvious reasons.)

To me and many other Greeks, this is why this is funny and 100% not cool: there is no CH sound in Greek.  The Greek word is “tsopanis”.  However, (and yes, my family is part of this group) some Greeks from villages tend to bring in the CH sound – but really, no CH sound in Greek.  Why am I honing in on this point?  Because it’s Greek yogurt, claiming to be a Greek word but the founder is Turkish.

Their website went from these descriptions using “Greek”, to removing the descriptions in their entirety as seen here:


So what, you ask?  Big deal – Chobani used “Greek” to describe their yogurt.  It’s a Greek process (they argue), but who cares?

A lot of people.  We’re talking about 400 years.

That’s the big deal.  And it’s a big deal with Greeks and Turks. As with many feuds between cultures, races, religions,, it’s typically the two in question that understand the unsaid words – no one else cares and it seems “minor” to most, but to those that understand the history, it’s a big deal. What really is lost here and will continue to be lost is the history.  With the web moving at increasingly high speeds, the democritization of media – literally giving everyone in the world the opportunity to create and move content, the very real possibility that not only will we lose history, but people will re-write it and the tragic events from thousands of years ago will be lost.  In losing history and the real events from that history, we’re all at risk of repeating it.  Our ancestors, regardless of their origin, will have fought in vain.

And it’s why the marketers behind Chobani should have known better to promote and market a “greek” product (that’s not Greek in any way – it’s made in New York, founded by a Turkish man).

So then I saw this tweet today:


Crudeness aside… I’m almost 100% positive that the person representing @Chobani was unaware of the cultural shitstorm they were walking into.  PR didn’t step in because the brand is just responding to tweets…and instead… we rehash 400 years of slavery between Greeks and Turks in the context of… why, of course!, the  “Greek” yogurt of Hamdi and Mustafa.

This isn’t the first time here folks, President Barack Obama was in the middle of a dispute too between the Greeks and the Turks…  about baklava.  Yes, my friends, baklava.  And The Atlantic, covered the “puff piece”, citing it as a “Minor Turkish-Greek conflict“. Turks got pissed, shitstorm ensues, people get worked up about it (including myself on Twitter), no one but Greeks and Turks get why this is not just a “minor” Turkish-Greek conflict – (including The Atlantic, who should have known better or at least researched the history considering the importance of the “event” that Obama was at in the first place).  Well, folks, Obama was at a 25th of March celebration in D.C when he had the baklava.

Who cares, right?

The 25th of March is when Greeks celebrate Independence Day.

… from 400 years of occupation…

From the Turks.