Following news that the Quaker Oats Company will be changing the name and packaging of its Aunt Jemima products because of its stereotypical imaging, Mars, Incorporated, which is behind the Uncle Ben’s rice brand will follow suit by “evolving” its brand identity, according to a press release on the company’s corporate website.
“As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do,” the company wrote in the release. “We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.”
Advertising industry publication Adweek reported that Sara Schulte, external communications manager for Mars Food North America said that the company had already been looking at a brand change and had “begun that work even before news of Aunt Jemima.”
Criticisms of the brand image predate the current controversies and on April 21, Shulte told the publication only that “Uncle Ben’s is a beloved brand with a rich history.”
The brand dates back to the 1940s and for most of its history was depicted as a subservient Black man on its packaging. That was updated in 2007 when Mars reportedly spent $20 million to change his image to chairman of the company in which website visitors could take a virtual tour of his office, read his emails, hear voicemails and see other interactive material. Those things are now gone from the website, Adweek said.
But Schulte said the company wanted to be on the side of standing against racial injustice and is using its branding as a tool for that.
“As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do,” she said.
Kevin D. Thomas, professor of multicultural branding in the Race, Ethnic and Indigenous Studies Program at Marquette University told The New York Times that he is looking forward to brand changes like Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima’s leading to significant change in marketing overall.
“I’m hoping this is a reckoning and we’re going to start seeing something that becomes pervasive,” Thomas said.