Uncle Ben’s says it plans to evolve its brand, including the visual identity
Uncle Ben’s may soon get a makeover as owner Mars Food evaluates the brand’s meaning and values and considers the imagery of a Black man that has graced its packaging since 1946.
“As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices,” parent company Mars Inc. said in a statement. “As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that one way we can do this is by evolving the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity.”
The Uncle Ben’s brand was created by Mars in 1946. The name and image have separate origin stories. Uncle Ben's is named for a Black Texan farmer known as Uncle Ben “who grew rice so well, people compared” Mars’ Converted brand rice “to his standard of excellence,” Uncle Ben’s says in an online timeline. The man whose picture has come to personify the brand was Frank Brown, "a beloved Chicago chef and waiter," it says.
Brown’s image was removed from packaging in 1971 and returned in 1983. A spokeswoman for Mars did not have information on the reason for the image’s removal and return.
“We do not yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities,” the Mars spokeswoman said. “The Uncle Ben’s brand values family, quality and bringing people together through cooking and shared meals. Whatever decisions we make, we will continue to honor these values.”
While Mars is mulling its plans, PepsiCo Inc. announced that it is removing the image of a Black woman from Aunt Jemima packaging and plans to change the brand name, which dates back to 1889.
Uncle Ben’s marked the first time a raw commodity was given a brand name, according to Mars. The first product in the Uncle Ben's lineup was Uncle Ben’s Original Converted brand rice.
The Uncle Ben’s brand is owned by Mars Food, which is a business unit of Mars Inc.
Mars Inc. issued a statement in early June, days after the killing of George Floyd, saying that “racism has no place in society.”
Uncle Ben’s has taken various approaches in its marketing. In 2007, Uncle Ben was named CEO of the fictitious Uncle Ben’s Inc. in a print and online campaign from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day meant to put a modern spin on the brand name.
In 2019, Uncle Ben's introduced a long-form online commercial showing the progression of a couple, from an early date to life as arguing parents, with "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" serving as much of the dialog. Shorter clips marked Uncle Ben's first new TV work since 2016. That campaign for the Mars brand came from BBDO SF and continued to air in 2020.
In April, the brand introduced a 45-second online spot showing a father and daughter navigating the stay-at-home routine during COVID-19. The “Special Guests” spot from Energy BBDO features a real dad and daughter and was made following social distancing protocols, the brand said.