While brands are hurriedly erasing “controversial” characters from packaging and promotions, Pine-Sol is sticking with the Pine-Sol Lady. That’s the power of denial, baby!
While brands are hurriedly erasing “controversial” characters from packaging and promotions, Pine-Sol is sticking with the Pine-Sol Lady. That’s the power of denial, baby!
Advertising Age published a long grain report on Ben’s Original—the updated brand name for the late Uncle Ben—which critics argue didn’t go far enough to address and eliminate the historical stereotypes. Okay, but the corporations behind Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima have tried over the years to erase the racism by revision versus replacement; that is, the characters have essentially undergone wardrobe and makeup changes. So, it’s not surprising that Mars Foods would opt to only take another baby step towards reaching an anti-racist perspective. Hell, the company probably still denies the superiority of brown rice over white rice too. And wait until the public learns that the entire 74-year evolution was engineered in exclusive collaboration with White advertising agencies.
Uncle Ben’s Rebranding Didn’t Go Far Enough, Critics Charge
By Jessica Wohl
When Mars Food announced an overhaul of the Uncle Ben’s brand, the company glossed over some of the historical lore—and racial stereotypes—that were part of its marketing heritage. Instead, the 74-year-old brand opted for a new moniker that hints at the past: Ben’s Original.
Uncle Ben’s history, in some ways, has been erased. “We don’t know if a real ‘Ben’ ever existed,” Mars Food announced in response to queries from Ad Age. The new name allows the brand to hold onto some of the Uncle Ben’s heritage while distancing itself from the servitude undertones of the word “Uncle” being associated with a Black man. But some critics say it hasn’t gone far enough, and should have re-badged the brand entirely.
“It’s a watered-down solution,” says a Black creative director with experience in the food industry. “It would have been a smarter play to scrap it and start clean, but big brands don’t do that. If they were to move completely away from the name they would have to do a lot of work.”
Mars Foods has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising over decades to establish the brand and the image of a grinning Black man to sell its rice. Then, in the wake of rising unrest due to the killing of George Floyd, PepsiCo announced plans to retire the Aunt Jemima brand name and image. The “Aunt,” portrayed by a Black woman, carries similar connotations to “Uncle.” Suddenly, Uncle Ben’s and other brands were thrust into the spotlight and forced to contend with their own histories. Mars Food followed PepsiCo’s move and announced its plan to review the Uncle Ben’s brand in June.
“It’s a shame that it has taken something as devastating as George Floyd’s death to make them look at their products,” says Ross Clugston, Executive Creative Director at WPP brand agency Superunion.
Mars Food had plans in place for its Uncle Ben’s overhaul just three months after it announced its review, and pushed out an announcement of its new brand on Wednesday that includes removal of the image of a Black man from its packaging. The quick turnaround allowed the brand to beat PepsiCo and other companies that are in the midst of similar brand overhauls.
Industry professionals who were not affiliated with the project suggest it was in many ways a decent start, but just that—a start. Much like the Washington Redskins renaming itself, (for now) as the Washington Football Team, branding experts say Ben’s Original needs to do more to show consumers that it is really transforming away from its roots.
“I understand the fear in this moment,” says Americus Reed II, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Reed, who is Black, says Uncle Ben’s announcement “passes the sniff test” but he wishes he brand would have gone further with the evolution of the name. “Right now, the safe bet is to stay under the radar on this thing.”
The premise for the Uncle Ben’s brand in the 1940s, according to people who have researched the brand, was discussed by Gordon Harwell, a business associate of Forrest E. Mars, a member of the company's founding family, and ad agency founder Leo Burnett over lunch at Chicago’s The Tavern Club. The premise for the brand name, that of a farmer named Uncle Ben, was suggested by Harwell, the story goes. At lunch, Harwell noticed a Black man named Frank Brown who later became the face of the brand that has gone on to sell millions of packages of rice worldwide featuring his image on the package. Some versions of the lore suggest Brown was a maître d’, while others conclude he was a hatcheck attendant. Brown is said to have agreed to have his portrait painted and got $500 for his participation.
An Ad Age reporter who reviewed a corporate timeline of the Uncle Ben’s brand in June spotted details including that the brand was created by Mars in 1946, and 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.” The man whose image came to personify the brand was Chicago chef and waiter Frank Brown, that timeline asserted. In September, however, those details from 1946 were no longer included on the timeline. Instead, the corporate history lesson jumps from 1945, when Mars states it began to use photoelectric grading for its “CONVERTED® Brand Rice,” to 1947, when “UNCLE BEN'S® ORIGINAL CONVERTED® Brand Rice hits the grocery store shelf.”
Now, Mars Food tells Ad Age, “we don’t know if a real ‘Ben’ ever existed. After extensive research, we’ve removed what we cannot legally confirm or validate to be true.” Mars Food does assert that the image on Uncle Ben’s packaging since 1947 is a picture of Brown, who the company states was a maître d' at The Tavern Club.
And now, it plans to do more to recognize his contributions to its success, decades later. A new “Seat at the Table” fund to support aspiring Black chefs and culinary entrepreneurs was inspired by Brown, Mars Food announced. It is committing $2 million over five years to create a scholarship in partnership with the National Urban League. Mars Food is also acknowledging the economic distress of people who live near its manufacturing facility in Greenville, Mississippi, a former plantation area where it has produced its rice for more than 40 years. The area will see an influx of $2.5 million “to help more than 7,500 students gain access to better education and fresh food,” the company stated.
A ‘step in the right direction’
It is unclear if there will be an actor portraying Ben going forward. Mars Food already tried to overhaul the character back in 2007, when he was shown as the CEO of the fictional Uncle Ben’s Inc. in a print and online campaign from TBWA/Chiat/Day. Mars Food has not yet released any Ben’s Original ads yet beyond a letter about how the company says the Uncle Ben’s brand is changing.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” says Clugston. Removing “Uncle,” he says, may lead people to question why the word was removed, and could educate people on the association of the word with a Black man constituting servitude. “Bringing that topic to the forefront to the everyday consumer is a good thing,” says Clugston.
He and others stressed that marketing organizations need to bring in people from a variety of backgrounds, both in hiring more diverse talent and reaching out to organizations that can advise on projects.
Mars Food stated that it solicited feedback from thousands of consumers around the world, “including many Black voices,” as well as from its employees, to ensure the new brand name resonated. “Throughout that process, Ben’s Original rose to the top,” the company stated.
There are plenty of other projects in this moment of racial awakening.
Aunt Jemima will begin to remove the imagery of a Black woman from its packaging in late 2020. The new brand identity, being researched with consumers “and diverse partners,” is set to appear in 2021, PepsiCo has stated. It has not yet announced the brand name that will replace Aunt Jemima.
Cream of Wheat, a brand from B&G Foods, is also dropping the image of a Black chef from its packaging. “The character is not embedded into the name, so they can recalibrate and change their brand without pulling apart all of the cards that built the house,” says Ned Brown, chief creative officer at ad agency Bader Rutter. Eskimo Pie is also rethinking its branding due to the derogatory associations of the word “Eskimo,” the brand announced in June. And the Mrs. Butterworth's brand and packaging are under review. Each brand has unique details and brand equity to consider.
Each of these brands rely on color, typography, iconography and names that have led to recognition and makes them easy for shoppers to find on shelves. Now, some of those elements need to be removed. “That combination of ingredients needs to honor the change without holding the memory of what has been,” says Brown. “You can hold onto color and typography and people will still have recognition of the brand.”
The Black creative director with experience in the food business, who asked not to be identified, says that Uncle Ben’s could have been better served going through the full process, including how the packaging will look, and then unveiling its plans.
“I think it’s a little foolish to release something in pieces,” he says. “Are they doing it to see what consumer response is? What is the intention of releasing it this way? It seems like you’re not making a definitive decision.”
Consumers seem to support the change. Earlier this year, an Ad Age-The Harris Poll survey found 47 percent of Black men and 52 percent of Black women supported rebranding of Uncle Ben’s, compared to 37 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of white men and women. Fifty-one percent of Black men and 64 percent of Black women believed Aunt Jemima should be rebranded, compared with 47 percent and 32 percent of white men and women, respectively.
Reed says he appreciates the company’s establishment of a relationship with the National Urban League and other efforts to support Black and other minority chefs. Tying the brand to a philanthropic effort linked to culinary expertise makes sense and stays true to the brand, says Reed. “The fact that they stayed within the domain of food, I think was a smart thing to do,” he says.
There’s one thing Reed’s less thrilled with, however: the name. “They could start over and create a new brand,” says Reed, though that would eliminate the familiarity cue he thinks the brand is counting on. “The word Ben is powerful, and people recognize Ben.”
Advertising Age reported R/GA Global Executive Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Carl Desir left the position for an undisclosed new role—that will likely have a much shorter title. Desir had served R/GA for roughly two years, originally coming on board as the White digital agency’s first director of diversity and inclusion. An R/GA spokesperson announced Desir’s replacement will be charged with bringing new vision to the position. “We will be throwing out the traditional playbook for [equity, diversity and inclusion],” claimed the spokesperson, “because to truly transform an organization, the pursuit of equality must stem from everyone and permeate each process and system that may hold bias.” Wow, that’s some serious bullshit. Is the implication that Desir didn’t do enough during his brief stint to ignite progress at R/GA? Plus, did they bring in a stripper of color to celebrate his departure? Desir has quite a diversity-related resume—including connections with the 4As and the ADCOLOR® advisory board—so he’ll probably soon surface as the Chief Diversity Officer for another White advertising agency or culturally clueless company. And R/GA will undoubtedly announce its next human heat shield shortly. Of course they will.
R/GA’s Global Executive Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to Depart
By Lindsay Rittenhouse
R/GA Global Executive Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Carl Desir is departing, Ad Age has learned.
Desir declined comment but a spokesperson for the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop confirmed his planned exit, saying his last is Friday and that he would be leaving R/GA for an unspecified new role. The spokesperson said the agency will announce his replacement next week but that the person who takes over will be assuming a refreshed equity, diversity and inclusion position that aims to “drive our initiatives more cohesively” across the entire company.
“We express our sincere thanks to Carl and his commitment and efforts, and we will remain committed to creating a more equitable, inclusive and diverse R/GA,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Ad Age. “We will be throwing out the traditional playbook for [equity, diversity and inclusion], because to truly transform an organization, the pursuit of equality must stem from everyone and permeate each process and system that may hold bias.”
The spokesperson said the new equity, diversity and inclusion role will be focused on “enabling systemic change—bridging business and talent to create a culture of inclusion, equity and productivity.”
Desir joined R/GA in May 2018 as diversity and inclusion director. He was promoted to global executive director of equity, diversity and inclusion one year later. Based in the New York office, Desir oversaw and implemented all of the agency’s diversity practices.
Before R/GA, Desir spent six years at the 4A’s, most recently as VP of talent initiatives. He also served as an advisory board chair for Adcolor from 2012 to 2015 and held account management and strategy roles at agencies including Translation, J. Walter Thompson (now Wunderman Thompson) and Arnold Worldwide.
Desir’s exit follows the departure of what seems like R/GA’s entire business transformation practice. Ad Age broke the news two weeks ago that Vice Chairman and Global Chief Strategy Officer Barry Wacksman, Global Chief Innovation Officer Saneel Radia and New York VP Executive Creative Director Mike Rigby would be striking off on their own to start a new consultancy focused in business transformation.
It was later learned that joining them would be Rachel Mercer, R/GA’s VP and head of strategy in New York; Colby Dennison, global head of operations, business transformation; and Philip Rackin, VP of business transformation.
Contributing: E.J. Schultz
19th century Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker is attributed with having said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
21st century White advertising agency leaders say, “Half the money I spend on advertising diversity is wasted; the other half I spend on PR denying the systemic racism—or heat shields, tax-deductible donations to ADCOLOR® and Chief Diversity Officers.”
This Good Max campaign from Venezuela seeks to scare men into shaving regularly by claiming beards can increase the threats associated with COVID-19. Hey, it’s only a matter of time before Gillette cuts into the conversation—probably producing branded coronavirus masks.
Age reported Cream of Wheat’s Rastus is the latest culturally clueless character being nixed in an act
of revisionist brand history. Plus, parent company B&G Foods has pledged to
reparations scholarships to aspiring Black and Latinx chefs. Hey,
somebody should check if any descendants of Frank
White are available and eligible.
Cream Of Wheat Plans To Remove The Black Chef From Its Packaging
By Jessica Wohl
B&G Foods will remove the image of a Black chef from all Cream of Wheat packaging and is starting to support aspiring minority chefs through scholarships as the company responds to calls for brands to confront old marketing that is seen as insensitive.
“For years, the image of an African-American chef appeared on our Cream of Wheat packaging,” stated B&G Foods, which has owned the brand since 2007. “While research indicates the image may be based upon an actual Chicago chef named Frank White, it reminds some consumers of earlier depictions they find offensive.”
B&G Foods’ announcement about the Cream of Wheat packaging update comes a day after Mars Food announced its Uncle Ben’s brand would be renamed Ben’s Original, and would drop the image of a Black man from its packaging. Other brands that continue to review their imagery and branding include Aunt Jemima, which In June announced plans to retire its brand name and image, and Mrs. Butterworth’s.
Cream of Wheat was introduced in 1893 and has long been marketed using a Black chef character, which is believed to be based on Frank White. In the early 1900s, Cream of Wheat ads showed the chef to be named Rastus, a name that sometimes implies a simple Black man and that today comes across as racially offensive. That name has not been used by the brand more recently, but the image of the chef on the packaging is interpreted by some as being a servant.
“It seems like their approach is a very thoughtful and understanding one,” says Ned Brown, chief creative officer at ad agency Bader Rutter. “The character is not embedded into the name, so they can recalibrate and change their brand without pulling apart all of the cards that built the house.”
B&G Foods also announced that it has started to develop relationships “with several of the leading culinary schools to help support and aid in the development of African American and Latinx candidates through various scholarship and other initiatives.”
The company has not said how soon the image will be removed, but it can take months for new products to appear in stores. The Cream of Wheat logo without the man’s image appears on B&G’s Facebook page. As of Thursday, Cream of Wheat continued to show the image in social media profiles where it is less active than Facebook. The character is included in its Instagram profile, where Cream of Wheat has not posted since 2018, and in its Twitter profile, where it has responded to posts but has not done one of its own since 2017.
The Associated Press reported Uncle Ben has left the building—replaced by a “Ben’s Original” logo. Plus, parent company Mars announced a goal to boost the number of people of color in its U.S. managerial ranks by 40%. And the initiative launches by ousting the Chairman of the Board…?
Goodbye to ‘Uncle Ben’: Rice brand to change its name to ‘Ben’s Original’
By Associated Press
NEW YORK — The Uncle Ben’s rice brand is getting a new name: Ben’s Original.
Parent firm Mars Inc. unveiled the change Wednesday for the 70-year-old brand, the latest company to drop a logo criticized as a racial stereotype. Packaging with the new name will hit stores next year.
“We listened to our associates and our customers and the time is right to make meaningful changes across society,” said Fiona Dawson, global president for Mars Food multi-sales and global customers. “When you are making these changes, you are not going to please everyone. But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing.”
Several companies have retired racial imagery from their branding in recent months, a ripple effect from the Black Lives Matters protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans in encounters with police.
Quaker Oats announced in June that it would drop its Aunt Jemima character from syrup and pancake packaging, responding to criticism that the character’s origins were based on the “mammy” stereotype, a Black woman content to serve her white masters. Quaker said packages without the Aunt Jemima image would start to appear in stores by the end of the year, although the company has not revealed the new logo.
The owner of Eskimo Pie has also said it would change its name and marketing of the nearly century-old chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Beyond food brands, the Washington NFL franchise dropped the “Redskins” name and Indian head logo amid pressure from sponsors including FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America.
Geechie Boy Mill, a family-owned operation in South Carolina that makes locally grown and milled white grits, is also planning a name change. Geechie is a dialect spoken mainly by the descendants of Black slaves who settled on the Ogeechee river in Georgia, according to dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com.
“We are in the process of changing our name and have developed a whole new brand. We look forward to sharing it with the public,” said Greg Johnsman, owner of Geechie Boy Mill.
Mars had announced in the summer that the Uncle Ben’s brand would “evolve.”
Since the 1940s, the rice boxes have featured a white-haired Black man, sometimes in a bow tie, an image critics say evokes servitude. Mars has said the face was originally modeled after a Chicago maitre d’ named Frank Brown. In a short-lived 2007 marketing campaign, the company elevated Uncle Ben to chairman of a rice company.
Dawson said months of conversations with employees, customer studies and other stakeholders led the company to settle on “Ben’s Original.” She said the company is still deciding on an image to accompany the new name.
Mars also announced several other initiatives, including a $2-million investment in culinary scholarships for aspiring Black chefs in partnership with the National Urban League. It also is planning a $2.5-million investment in nutritional and education programs for students in Greenville, Miss., the majority-Black city where the rice brand has been produced for more than 40 years.
Mars said it has set a goal of increasing the number of people of color in its U.S. management positions by 40%. The company did not give a time frame for hitting that target.
Advertising Age reported Procter & Gamble released its diversity figures—which mostly made a statement about its divertsity. That is, women account for 48 percent of managers. Whoop dee damn doo. As for Blacks—bundled under employees of African descent—the managers figure is at 8 percent, jumping a whopping single percentage point since 2015. In 2017, P&G unveiled The Talk, followed in 2019 by The Look. Not yet in the series of propagandistic heat shields—Walk The Walk. The only walking involves Marc Pritchard striding to the podium to accept an ADCOLOR® trophy or shiny bauble to divert attention from the company’s abject hypocrisy.
P&G Shares Diversity Data After Its Own Marketing Raises Expectations
By Jack Neff
Procter & Gamble Co., whose high-profile marketing on race and gender equity in recent years has raised expectations for its own performance, is publicly releasing global and U.S. employment diversity data—including some on ethnicity for the first time. The move comes after the company’s marketing helped spur a shareholder resolution calling for more data disclosure.
In a “2020 Representation Data” post that P&G is sharing with employees today, the company says 48 percent of managers and 41 percent of senior managers in its Global Leadership Council (GLC) are women. The disclosure also covers the ethnic makeup data that P&G hasn’t shared publicly in the past. “Multicultural” employees make up 25 percent of overall P&G employment, 28 percent of management and 36 percent of representatives on the GLC.
The report, which includes comparisons to the company’s 2015 data, shows diversity improvements on most fronts, but less so for employees of African descent, who make up 10 percent of total employment, 8 percent of management and 6 percent of GLC members. Those numbers are largely unchanged from 2015, except a one percentage-point increase in management representation.
Overall, P&G reported significant progress in multicultural representation at all levels, particularly at the senior-most GLC, up to 36 percent from 23 percent in five years. Those diversity gains came mainly from people of Asian Pacific descent, with lesser gains in Hispanic/Latinx representation.
As P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard has said previously, the company notes in the new report that it’s not where it wants to be in multicultural representation, where its target is to move to 40 percent of overall employment vs. the current 25 percent. P&G is far closer to its goal of 50/50 representation of men and women at all levels, though its largely manufacturing and administrative employment base of positions that often don’t require college degrees is about two-thirds male.
Generally, P&G’s diversity numbers come in well ahead of agency holding companies that have reported data in recent months. They’re also similar to key competitors such as L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Estée Lauder, which posted diversity numbers this summer on Instagram in response to a call by the group Pull Up for Change. But Unilever’s diversity representation on its U.S. leadership team appears well ahead of P&G’s.
P&G did tell Pull Up for Change in July that 13 percent of its U.S. beauty business leadership is Black but has not previously released data on the ethnic makeup of its management across the whole U.S. business.
While the new release goes further than P&G has publicly gone up to now, it’s not likely to satisfy the Berkeley, Calif.-based group As You Sow, which has filed a shareholder resolution for the company’s October annual meeting calling for annual disclosure of Equal Opportunity Commission data and more detailed promotion, recruitment and retention-rate data by gender and ethnicity.
“Procter & Gamble has put a huge amount of resources around trying to recruit more diverse clients and marketing around racial justice themes,” says Meredith Benton, workplace equity program manager of As You Sow. “What we don’t have is data from Procter & Gamble.”
That was before P&G indicated it would publicly release more data, which Benton said she welcomes, but she still wants more-detailed data sets released, including annual Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data.
“There are standardized data sets that a pretty significant portion of the S&P 100 releases,” Benton says. “Procter & Gamble has declined to release that data. And then there are additional indicators that we find to be highly useful in understanding the effectiveness of a diversity, equity and inclusion program. And that’s around promotion rates, recruitment rates and retention rates of diverse employees. A smaller subset of the S&P 100 currently provides that.”
Benton says P&G’s high-profile marketing on gender and racial justice issues, including such videos as “The Talk” and “The Look” and the #WeSeeEqual series, has created expectations that it will lead other companies in data disclosure too. The issue is of importance to shareholders, she says, because of numerous third-party studies and statements by P&G that diverse teams outperform others.
In its response to the shareholder proposal, on which it recommends a “no” vote, P&G says that it already provides substantial reporting to the public and at least eight third-party evaluators or scorecards on its employment diversity data. Adding another reporting system wouldn’t provide much value but would add to administrative costs, the company argues.
“We believe our efforts, externally and internally, provide ample evidence that the company means what it says on diversity and inclusion and is making substantive progress linked to the strength of our business,” the company says.
“For us, it’s being able to tell the entire story,” says P&G Chief Communications Officer Damon Jones. “If we want people to judge whether we’re walking the talk, we want them to look at the data, the programs, multiple aspects, as opposed to having a singular dimension by which they measure our success.”
The 4As launched its latest heat shield—Vanguard—with a 62-page pdf that reads like a Black advertising agency’s pitch deck, chock-full of factoids about underrepresented minorities in adland. Some of the slides actually reflect poorly on the 4As. For example, one statement reads:
In 1978, 5% of the advertising workforce was Black
Fast forward 40 years and only 6% are Black
In other words, all of the 4As’ faux concern and flaccid concepts over four decades have amounted to a single percentage point of progress. Yet now the trade organization promises to ignite revolutionary change for up to $7550 per participating White advertising agency…?
Finally, is Vanguard an appropriate moniker for a force assembling over 40 years into a crusade? A better name might be 4Ass Flank Guard.