Uncle Ben's "Begin with Ben" campaign, launching in the U.S. this week, represents a significantly new emphasis for the brand -- and likely the rice category as a whole -- at least when it comes to consumers in the U.S. and other markets where rice is traditionally viewed as a side dish, rather than a meal's main element.
With healthier eating and lifestyles increasingly driving meal-planning and purchasing decisions, the Mars Inc. brand believes that the campaign's core message -- that family nutrition can be enhanced through meals based on or built around rice -- is one whose time has come.
Uncle Ben's packaging already carries a "supports a healthy heart" graphic, and it has more than tripled its number of whole-grain products (including its recent introduction of Whole Grain White Rice designed to appeal to kids).
"Uncle Ben's marketing campaigns have always been created to build on the values of the brand: quality, family, warmth and trust," says Mars Food US VP of marketing Tim Snyder. "But trends change, and topics of family eating, health and nutrition are at the forefront today. We saw this shift in how people are eating as an important reason to change the focus of the way we speak to our target audiences."
The global campaign from BBDO, which launched in Europe and Canada earlier this year, still uses the iconic, fictional Uncle Ben figure, paired with the "Begin with Ben" tagline, as a key element -- the television commercials, for example, begin and end with frames showing that image/message.
However, the creative for the first 30-second spot is otherwise entirely in animation -- another approach differentiator for the nearly 70-year-old brand. The ad depicts a family following a single grain of rice on its journey to the table, as a voiceover explains that rice can "help you eat better" and "bring your family back to the table."
Each ad will feature a different Uncle Ben's product -- the first TV spot specifically mentions long grain wild rice within the broader rice-as-healthy-meal-base messaging -- and a shot of an appealing rice-based meal.
All of the creative stresses rice as a meal foundation that offers variety and flavor, as well as one that naturally combines with vegetables and other healthy ingredients. Rice's ability to "encourage diverse cuisines," as well as please the whole family, are key themes.
Convenience or speed of preparation is not specifically stressed in the initial TV spot, although the message that the brand's rice products represent a simple path to healthier eating is certainly key. The convenience note is, of course, more obvious for some products -- Uncle Ben's more than 30 rice products include a large and growing number of varieties of its 90-second Ready Rice.
"Through recent research, we found that 53% of people would make a healthier meal if they had time," says Snyder. "We know that families of all sizes are extremely busy and are looking for ways to incorporate wholesome eating into busy weeknight meals. Convenience is a top priority for them. Our Ready Rice allows us to marry taste and convenience with healthy choices and family satisfaction. We hear from many types of people that the Ready Rice product is life-changing -- everyone from moms looking for that easy dinner to college students, to non-cooks who claim they can't even boil water."