So about 18 months ago, the company and agency decided "to reach out to our consumers" and gauge attitudes toward Uncle Ben, Mr. Howell said. There were no negative responses or references to the stereotyped aspects of the character, he said. Rather, the consumers "focused on positive images, quality, warmth, timelessness," he added, and "the legend of 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, and the budget for the campaign, print and online, is estimated at $20 million.
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