Friday, March 30, 2007

Bring out your dead ad icons

+ First Orville Redenbacher, now Uncle Ben.
Joe Shands, a creative director at the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of TBWA/Chiat/Day, said the freedom to use the character to sell the Uncle Ben’s brand was a welcome change from the years when “all we’ve had to work with is a portrait.” “We wanted to know if there was something there we could utilize to talk about new products, existing products, the values of the company,” Mr. Shands said, adding that both black and white consumers described the character as someone “they know and love.”

“Through the magic of marketing, we’ve made him the chairman,” Mr. Shands said. Uncle Ben’s office, he said, is “reflective of a man with great wisdom who has done great things.”

Magazine ads in the campaign, which carries the theme “Ben knows best,” present a painting of the character in a gold frame with the chairman’s title affixed on a plaque.

The painting is also on display on the home page of the redesigned Web site, which offers a virtual tour of Ben’s office. Visitors can browse through his e-mail messages, examine his datebook and read his executive memorandums.

In coming months, visitors to the Uncle Ben's Web site will be able to discover new elements of the character, Mr. Howell said, like full-body digital versions of Uncle Ben and voice mail messages. The Web site was designed by an agency, Tequila, that is a sibling of TBWA/Chiat/Day who created the traditional elements, and the budget for the campaign, print and online, is estimated at $20 million. TBWA/Chiat/Day is part of the TBWA Worldwide unit of the Omnicom Group.

If the makeover for Uncle Ben is deemed successful, could there be similar changes in store for other racially charged characters?

Last month, the Cream of Wheat chef got a new owner when B&G Foods completed a $200 million deal to buy his brand, and its companion, Cream of Rice, from Kraft Foods.

"We're doing consumer focus work right now to understand how important the character is," said David L. Wenner, chief executive at B&G in Parsippany, N.J.

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