Over the past year, M&M’s has been the subject of Fox News rants and criticism from a small segment of the fan—first for changing green M&M shoes, and most recently for featuring M&M’s female characters on its packaging for International Women’s Day.
So this week she announced a change: After an outpouring of attention, her characters are beginning to “indefinite pausehanding spokesperson responsibilities over to actress and comedian Maya Rudolph.
Given the massive interest, some believe the M&M’s ad is a PR stunt to promote the upcoming Super Bowl ad. But experts point out that not all publicity is good. M&M may be trying to take back control of a story that has spiraled out of control.
“I think M&M has stumbled into more political debate than they had hoped,” said Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
M&M’s relatively subtle changes aimed at inclusivity don’t seem designed to generate much, if any, controversy. But that’s not how it went.
M&M first revealed changes to its characters in January 2022, such as changing Green’s go-go shoes for sneakers and replacing other characters’ shoes in what the company described as an effort to make the characters more relevant and inclusive. Her message was similar in September when she added Purple, a new female character. Then earlier this month, the company celebrated Women’s Day by turning the lady’s logo upside down to look like Ws — a typographical trick McDonald’s used five years ago.
Fox News considered Brand to be ironically “woke” after Brand changed the characters’ shoes. Tucker Carlson complained about the candy characters’ new look and, in his view, the less “attractive” look.
“M&M won’t be satisfied until it’s another very unattractive cartoon character,” said Carlson.
And the online machine has also moved from Twitter to posts. In The Washington Post, for example, an op-ed declared, “M&M’s changes are not progressive. Give Green her shoes back.” And after introducing the Purple package and the Women’s Day package, Fox News targeted the brand again.
“What M&M has tried to do over the past few years is be very inclusive, and ensure that these characters are represented in a positive way,” said Calkins, a Northwestern University professor. “They were completely intentional in their efforts to do so.”
What they did not want was to become a target for right-wing commentators. “I think they didn’t set out to become a target of Fox News,” Calkins said. “There are only two ways you can really play it here. Either you get away with the characters, or you have to really stand up and fight.”
This week’s announcement indicates that M&M has decided to go with the first option. But she does so with a wink at the controversy, a strategy that may ultimately work in her favour.
If, of course, the brand can pull it off.
When M&M’s announced its partnership with Maya Rudolph, she hinted at the reaction to Green’s shoes.
“In the past year, we’ve made some changes to our beloved speakers,” said M&M’s. We weren’t sure if anyone would notice. And we certainly didn’t think it would break the internet. But we get it now — even candy shoes can be polarizing.”
To say that the reaction to Green’s shoes broke the internet might be an exaggeration of things, in favor of M&M. But the same statement sparked more backlash online, along with other brands Like A&W Get some attention for themselves.
It is difficult to measure any effect on sales of personality changes or reaction to them. The brand has seen “a record amount of interest and conversions around our spokespeople,” according to a spokesperson. But owner Mars, which is a private company, doesn’t share sales numbers.
Rudolph will star in an upcoming ad during the game, but the company announced the commercial in December before the latest round of criticism, adding that the partnership wasn’t just an unexpected move.
The deal with Rudolph has been “in the works for a while,” said Gabrielle Wesley, chief marketing officer of Mars Wrigley North America, in a statement this week. “Let me emphatically say that this decision is not a reaction but rather an endorsement of our M&M brand,” said Wesley.
As for the speaking speakers – they may be benched for now, but they aren’t going anywhere.
“The original cast of color of M&M spokespeople, nowadays, pursue other personal interests,” said Wesley. According to the brand, fans will learn more about their situation in the coming weeks.
a Tweet from Snickersalso owned by Mars, reports that it could be used in a chocolate bar campaign.
However, taking speakers out of the spotlight wouldn’t be uncommon for M&M. The characters have been around since the 1950s, but over the years M&M’s have relied on them more or less heavily in promotions.
There is a risk of backtracking, Geraldo Matos, associate professor of marketing at Roger Williams University, noted. Customers may wonder if M&M’s has turned its back on the original plan to use ideas of inclusivity to market its products. “They may have put themselves in the middle of annoying both parties.”
Giving the characters a break seems to be a good strategy for Lauren Labrecque, associate professor of marketing at the University of Rhode Island.
“I think they’ll bring back the characters and maybe in a year’s time, if not sooner,” she predicted. “And when they come back, people—especially M&M fans—will have forgotten what even the controversy was, and they’ll be very welcoming.”
Plus, she added, this is a low-risk situation. “It’s not dangerous anger,” she said. In the scope of trademark controversies, “it’s very inconsequential.” Because of all that, “it’s going to be a net positive.”
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