Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Many thanks to the BBC for the interview today. I appeared on BBC Radio Ulster alongside Forbes Reporter Isabel Togoh to be interviewed on the rebrand of "Uncle Bens” to “Bens Original”. Presenters Julie McCulloch and Conor Bradford quizzed us on the significance of this.
"Uncle Ben’s" is a famous brand of partly cooked rice which you can finish off in the micro-wave. Mars, who owns the brand has renamed it to "Ben's Original” and removing the white-haired Black man as part of its brand identity. They are redoing this because they say they know they "have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices” (https://www.mars.com/news-and-stories/press-releases/uncle-bens-brand-evolution).
A brand is more than a logo, a name and some fonts. I define brand as the “meaning people attach to a business and its offer”. I’m in the game of “branding” - “the management of meaning” and I consult and help business leaders create meaningful brands which connect with their audiences.
In this situation, we can assume the brand team believes that to remain relevant they need to move away from the stereotypes that the brand has used to convey meaning in the past.
There are two reasons why a brand would do this:
Because externally the way it has been appearing might be perceived negatively by its customers and is affecting buying decisions.
Because internally the company struggles to connect its outward appearance to the internal values it promotes and this is affecting the attraction, motivation and retention of staff.
It would seem that Mars has had indications from employees and customers that the relevance and perception of the brand is being impacted negatively and so they have decided to change.
We can assume this is couched in the current social changes we are witnessing and are fuelled by the sentiments of racial equality. The positioning of “Uncle Bens” hints at past social structures which are no no-longer relevant or attractive to the modern consumer. Based on their commercial objectives the business presumably, therefore, feels it needs to evolve.
Is this political correctness gone too far? Should this have been done ages ago? This is all to do with perception and relevance. The original Uncle Ben’s story was apparently made up - nobody knows if there was an actual person called Ben in the first place. Therefore if customers and staff feel the positioning of this rice product is not relevant to them and it is affecting purchasing decisions then, as a brand consultant, I think they are doing the right thing.
HEAR THE FULL INTERVIEW at: 53:47 🎧