despite of Advertising M&M introduced this week — that the company would be taking an “indefinite pause” from its spokespeople in favor of “beloved” actress Maya Rudolph — the truth is, they’re actually not going anywhere.
“Rest assured, the characters are our long-term spokespeople,” a representative for the company wrote in an email. While M&M’s “iconic characters actually spend some time pursuing their other interests” before the Super Bowl, during the big game, their commercial will solve the problem, putting the “characters back where they belong in the heart of the brand.”
In the past year, it has become clear that M&M’s operations stir up strong feelings. Modifications to the product itself sparked a bit of controversy—it sparked candy-coated chocolate announce New fillings, such as Caramel Cold Brew, have remained essentially the same — but when it comes to marketing, the brand has a knack for causing controversy. Fox News host Tucker Carlson in particular became one of the biggest M&M’s haters, wary of the company’s vibe on his nightly show.
To understand the latest developments at Candygate, it might help to go back to January 2022, when M&M rebranded with inclusivity in mind. Embrace his orange M&M Anxiety disorders (An attempt to ramp up his current appeal for Gen Z, the company said at the time), and the green M&M formerly known as M&M’s She swapped her high heels for sensible sneakers.
The response online was overwhelming. Millennials and Zoomers who have only known a world with the image of green M&M aphrodisiacs jokingly demanded that the company return the speaker to its physical form. Soon after, the candy was drawn into the culture wars. Declaring a preference for the juicy green M&M, Mr. Carlson devoted a segment to re-branding on his show, using the tracks “PROGRESS AT LAST: PLAIN, FRUMPY M&M CANDY” and “Misery and unlimited candy is all we deserve.”
“M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is so unattractive and downright creepy,” Mr. Carlson said.
Since then, the cultural character of candy mascots has grown. In September, Mars introduced its all-new speaker, a purple M&M “designed to represent acceptance and inclusivity,” the company said in a statement. statment. She shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first female M&M’s Peanut, but she managed to elude Mr. Carlson’s wrath until this month, when she announced the March Limited edition packages of M&M’s that contain only the colors associated with their female characters (green, purple, and brown). “Woke M&M’s are back,” Mr. Carlson declared. Another host on Fox News He said Feminist-branded M&M’s packages will help China take over the world.
M&M’s recent decision to sideline its spokespeople has been interpreted by many as the company’s kowtowing to Mr. Carlson’s criticisms. But the brand has something else on its mind: “We’re confident that fans who have embraced the M&M’s brand’s intent and updated characters launched last year will be pleased,” wrote an M&M’s representative, referring to the run-up to Super Bowl, one of the most important events in the world of advertising.
“The mistake M&M’s made was that they didn’t own the story,” said Alex Center, who previously worked as a designer and brand strategist for Coca-Cola and also worked on campaigns for New Balance and Apple. “They weren’t embracing the conversation that their brand was about. They were trying to push it in some way with a cheery message of unity.”
Debbie Millman, co-founder and chair of the Graduate Program in Branding at the College of Visual Arts, agreed that M&M handled the backlash to its rebranding poorly. She said the spokesperson’s comment amounted to falling back on inclusiveness, even if it was meant to be a prequel to her own Super Bowl ad.
“If they really believe in inclusivity, if they really believe in having representation in these spokespeople, they should absolutely know that it’s going to be polarizing,” Ms. Millman said. “If they really want to make a change and stand up for what they believe in, they need to have a backbone to stick to.”
“Being culturally relevant is a good thing,” Mr. Center said of the situation M&M finds itself in. The company should explicitly embrace its position on the front lines of the culture wars, he continued, and seize the moment to mock itself. .
But the reaction reflects a broader trend of legacy brands trying, and often failing, to connect with a new audience of young, socially conscious people.
Ms. Millman compared the M&M disaster with Nike campaign with Colin Kaepernick in 2018. “When this relationship was first announced, people were running over, burning and destroying Nike sneakers. People thought Nike had made a mistake.” Three months later, Nike’s market share had skyrocketed. Brands now have to take risks if they want to establish a meaningful relationship with their constituents.”
Older brands have found it difficult to connect with young people, especially when their advertising campaigns address issues of social justice. In 2019, Burger King I entered A range of alternative ‘mood meals’ are present in exchange for the happy meal (eg, ‘blue meal’, ‘DGAF meal’, ‘despair meal’) in a campaign associated with mental health awareness. Pepsi treaded in similar territory with a commercial starring supermodel and reality TV star Kendall Jenner in which she appeared A police officer hands a Pepsi while attending a protest.
“It’s a disingenuous and dangerous situation when brands use very real human challenges we face as a society, to inject this into your advertising and marketing and put your brand in the middle of it,” said Mr. Center. “People, especially young people, are incredibly smart and incredibly aware that this is what’s going on.”
Mr. Center believes that younger companies and organizations that don’t have an easy-to-search history are better able to connect with young people.
Advertising tends to be more effective when brands communicate their values rather than what they think young consumers want to hear.
M&M hasn’t done so yet, but the company appears to be pinning its response to all of the attention with its upcoming Super Bowl ad. Consumers will just have to wait and see.
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