Mars loses face of Uncle Ben in rebrand as Ben's Original

Global rebrand adds purpose: inclusivity and support for under-privileged Australians

Ben's rice packaging old, including the face of 'Uncle Ben' and new without Uncle Ben
Ben's rice packaging old, including the face of 'Uncle Ben' and new without Uncle Ben

Following public criticism in the US about racist advertising and a name-change announced last year, Mars Food is now airing its rebrand of Uncle Ben’s rice as Ben’s Original, in new packaging minus the smiling face of ‘Uncle Ben’, a person of colour. 

Beyond the name change, the company has also announced new brand purpose: Its corporate social responsibility to help disadvantaged communities to get a nutritious meal and other opportunities in life. 

Mars Food Australia marketing director, Bronwyn Powell, said the company had not felt the criticisms of racial insensitivity that flared internationally in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the US. 

“No, we haven’t felt that criticism here. But as a local brand, we are following the global marketing strategy,” Powell told CMO. “And since putting newly packaged product on shelves, we have had customers calling in saying they support the change.The thing I’m most proud of is the very careful consideration of people’s ideas on the meaning of racial stereotypes – we did a lot of social listening.” 

Mars Food Australia director of marketing, Bronwyn PowellCredit: Mars
Mars Food Australia director of marketing, Bronwyn Powell

Powell said the FMCG's market testing took in thousands upon thousands of opinions in every country where the Ben's brand is sold. These encompassed consumers, other stakeholders as well as employees, whom Mars calls associates. As a result, she did not believe the rebrand will see the product's market share to dip.

For Powell, the rebrand is as important in Australia as it is in countries where there was much more specific criticism of brands when the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum. 

“There are varying degrees of sensitivities in different countries but sensitivities are important globally and the new identity has been developed for the world, not just the US,” said Powell.  

“We will grow market share with this rebrand because, as a brand, we’re demonstrating we’ve listened, are purpose-led and committed to inclusivity. That's particularly important to younger consumers who want brands to create the world we want for tomorrow.” 

Read more: Making a rebrand a whole-of-organisation job

Ben's fresh purpose is to be inclusive and to support disadvantaged Australians with a portion of its profits over the next five years. The exact form this support will take will not be announced till next year but the company plans to partner with an outreach organisation to create better access to nutritious meals in one initiative. It's also looking to create more life opportunities for disadvantaged people.  

“'Everyone deserves a seat at the table’ is our rally cry for our brand’s purpose,” said Powell. “It means everyone has a right to a nutritious meal but also everyone deserves opportunities, a chance in life. We will be tailoring that campaign in Australia in terms of what social inclusion means. In other countries – for example, in the US – we’re training people as chefs in ‘Ben’s Original Seat at the Table’ scholarship. We’re exploring those sorts of community projects here too.” 

The new community initiatives will add to Mars Food Australia’s existing social contributions, which include hunger projects in partnership with Foodbank and Second Bite. 

The two-phase Ben's rebranding creative was developed by The&Partnership and will air in Australia and internationally as part of the first global marketing campaign. It also airs in the US, the UK, Germany, Canada and France. 

The first phase announces the new name and reassures us the product is the same, encapsulated in the name Ben’s Original. The campaign went live last week in online video, social media and in-store promotions.

Phase two, ‘Everyone’s original’, features non-actors and aims to celebrates individuality and inclusivity.

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