Uncle Ben’s rice is getting a new name – Ben’s Original – signaling the brand’s ambition to create a more inclusive future.
Parent Mars Inc. announced the move for the 70-year-old rice icon, the latest brand to drop a logo criticized as a racial stereotype. New branding and packaging will hit stores in 2021.
“We listened to our associates and our customers and the time is right to make meaningful changes across society,” Fiona Dawson, global president for Mars Food told the Associated Press. “When you are making changes, you are not going to please everyone. But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing.”
This move comes in the wake of several companies retiring racial imagery in recent months, a ripple effect from the protests against racial injustice and police brutality – the killing of George Floyd, Briana Taylor and other Blacks.
Quaker Oats announced in June that it would drop Aunt Jemima from syrup and package branding, responding to criticism that the character’s origins were based on “mammy,” a Black woman content to serve her White masters. Quaker packaging without the Aunt Jemima image will hit store shelves by the end of the year, although the new logo has not yet been revealed.
The owner of Eskimo Pie has also said it will change its name and marketing of the nearly century-old ice cream bar.
Beyond food, the Washington NFL franchise (formerly Redskins) dropped the Indian head logo amid pressure from sponsors including FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America.
Mars indicated in the summer the Uncle Ben’s brand would “evolve.”
The company’s rice boxes and packaging have featured a white-haired Black man, sometimes with a bow tie, an image critics contend evokes servitude. Mars said the face was originally modeled after a Chicago maître d’ named Frank Brown.
Mars has announced several other initiatives, including a $2 million investment in culinary scholarships for aspiring Black chefs in partnership with the National Urban League, according to the AP.
The company is also planning a $2.5 million investment in nutritional and education programs for students in Grenville, Mississippi, where the rice brand has been produced for more than four decades.
Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons said it’s always a source of pride for the city to call the famous rice brand home, despite the controversy through the years. He told the AP Mars is the third largest employer in the city, creating more than 1,000 jobs – from rice farmers to truck drivers.
Simmons praised the company for seeking local leadership input on the name change.
Are News Embargos Still Effective for PR Pros?
The news story embargo has long been a key tool in the PR pros toolbox.
The longtime PR industry strategy of sharing breaking news might have lost some of its luster through the years, but it’s still very much part of today’s news cycle. Story embargoes can be pitched well or poorly. PR News recently conducted interviews and research to compile this useful list of embargo tips:
‘You’re nothing without an embargo … or an education’
One part of the PR pro’s job is educating executives about proper communication protocol. If you’ve decided to issue an embargoed story, make sure the C-suite is aligned with your strategy. In addition, let senior executives know of your intentions early, said Hinda Mitchell, president, Inspire PR Group. In advance, explain how an embargo works and do so in detail, she added.
“When [C-suite executives] hear about an embargo in the final hours of a big announcement, they often get nervous,” she said. “Help them understand that it is a recognized PR practice, and the reporters have been vetted and can be trusted with the information.”
‘Embargo with your head, not over it’
With apologies to Furio Giunta, the pony-tailed terror whose “Bet-a wit you head, no over it” is considered one of the top 10 classic sports moments from “The Sopranos,” this handy aphorism applies to embargoes too. Like betting, embargo judiciously.
“There needs to be a legitimate reason for an embargo,” Mitchell said. “If a story doesn’t warrant being held, don’t ask for an embargo,” she added.
OK, unlike Guinta’s sad victim, we know where and when to bet. How about where and when to embargo?
‘Don’t offer embargoes to a stranger’
The communicators we spoke with agreed on two things:
- Pitch embargoed stories only to content creators you know fairly well. This prevents one of the pitfalls associated with embargoes—reporters sometimes don’t honor them. “Knowing and working with the reporter for a while tends to circumvent that,” said Jamie Ernst, SVP, Brodeur Partners.
- PR pros should feel safe to embargo anywhere, even with family and small children nearby.
‘Sometimes you feel like an embargo, sometimes you don’t’
Please disregard the humorous subhead. While you can embargo anywhere, there is a specific time to use an embargo.
Use an embargo when you have an important story that you think reporters will need some time to write. In addition, make sure you have executives who can offer one-on-ones to reporters, or “unique data” to bolster the story.
Another tip: Make sure you have several angles to offer reporters on the story.
In addition, as part of your education of executives (see No. 1 above), make certain the C-suite understands that while there’s a lid for every pot, there’s not an embargo for every story.
Indeed, a great way to get your embargoed pitch ignored is for it to be a middling story. Examples include embargoing a low-level personnel appointment or a minor addition to the company’s portfolio. While the new color scheme of your fleet of trucks might be very important to your staff, and it could make a good story, it’s probably not worthy of an embargo.
It has to be significant news!
‘Embargoes, they’re not just for breakfast anymore’
As we saw in No. 3, PR pros should share embargoes only with those content creators they know.
A Trade Deficit
Facebook to Launch Oversight Board Prior to Election
Facebook’s much-discussed oversight board should launch prior to the November election on Nov. 3 after taking heat for a perceived lack of action.
The board, which has been nicknamed Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” will review appeals made by Facebook and Instagram users who don’t agree with content moderation decisions, like posts being taken down or labeled as misinformation. It will have the power to overrule decisions made by Facebook’s moderators and executives, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
Following a report from The Financial Times, a spokesperson for the independent oversight board told CNBC that it expects to start in mid to late October.
Facebook announced the creation of the board in November 2018. It came after a report was published in The New York Times that detailed how the company avoided and deflected blame in the public conversation around its handling of Russian interference in U.S. politics and other social network misuses.
At the time it said the board’s members are a globally diverse group with lawyers, journalists, human rights advocates and other academics. Between them, they are said to have expertise in areas such as digital rights, religious freedom, conflicts between rights, content moderation, internet censorship and civil rights.