If you want proof positive that Madison Avenue and corporate America still don’t get the internet, look no farther than the new website created by TBWA/Chiat/Day for Mars’ Uncle Ben’s Rice. It’s also a great place to learn how to waste $20 million dollars.
Are they freaking kidding?! Where’s the human voice? Where’s the transparency? Where’s the educational element for children? Where’s the interactivity? The reality? And, jeez, where is the compelling, amusing, or even mildly interesting content? Where’s Ben’s last name?
Besides being insulting to African Americans, the site fails – big-time — because it’s nothing but a simplistic attempt at advertainment that assumes people are interested in reading about the history of rice as told by an updated Step ‘n Fetchit character. But then racial slurs are nothing new at Mars, the owner of Uncle Ben’s, which also makes SUZI-WAN complete oriental dishes.
The company says that Ben was actually an African American rice farmer in Texas who was known for the quality of his rice. Undoubtedly he had a last name. Why not tell the true story of why they named the product after him? Why not give Ben a last name to bring him into the real world?
According to Wikipedia, “In years past in the American South, whites commonly referred to elderly black men as “uncle,” though they were not blood relations. The practice was considered patronizing and demeaning and largely has been discontinued.”
Who’s more clueless: TBWA/Chiat/Day, or Mars for turning the pejorative image on the box of Uncle Ben’s Rice into the company’s chairman and not giving him a last name.
“Through the magic of marketing, we’ve made him the chairman,” said John Shands, a creative director at the agency. Uncle Ben’s office, he said, is “reflective of a man with great wisdom who has done great things.”
But there’s no evidence on the site of great achievements by Ben or any other African American. Here’s an email from Ben to HR that you can read when you click on the computer on Ben’s desk inside his palatial office:
“I have been keeping a keen eye on the new young man working in the mail room. He is energetic, friendly and unusually promot, all promotion-worthy attributes. Please make sure his paycheck envelope includes a complimentary coupon redeemable for a package of our delicious 90-second microwaveable READY RICE.”
Yes, I’m sure a coupon for rice would be a huge motivator to any employee of a rice manufacturer.