Uncle Ben, Board Chairman--WHAT
The New York Times
Uncle Ben, Board Chairman
A racially charged advertising character, who for decades has been relegated to a minor role in the marketing of the products that still carry his name, is taking center stage in a campaign that gives him a makeover — Madison Avenue style — by promoting him to chairman of the company.
Newspaper ad and image of Uncle Ben in his office,Masterfoods USA
A Web site for Uncle Ben’s, unclebens.com, offers a look at his executive office.
The longtime image of Aunt Jemima, in a photo taken between 1933 and 1951; a number of women, including Anna Robinson, shown here, portrayed the character at events like state fairs.
The character is Uncle Ben, the symbol for more than 60 years of the Uncle Ben’s line of rices and side dishes now sold by the food giant Mars. The challenges confronting Mars in reviving a character as racially fraught as Uncle Ben were evidenced in the reactions of experts to a redesigned Web site (unclebens.com), which went live this week.
“This is an interesting idea, but for me it still has a very high cringe factor,” said Luke Visconti, partner at Diversity Inc. Media in Newark, which publishes a magazine and Web site devoted to diversity in the workplace.
“There’s a lot of baggage associated with the image,” Mr. Visconti said, which the makeover “is glossing over.”
Uncle Ben, who first appeared in ads in 1946, is being reborn as Ben, an accomplished businessman with an opulent office, a busy schedule, an extensive travel itinerary and a penchant for sharing what the company calls his “grains of wisdom” about rice and life. A crucial aspect of his biography remains the same, though: He has no last name.
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