Over the past year, M&M has been the subject of tirades from Fox News and criticism from a small segment of fans. Changing Green M&M’s Shoes And recently Featuring female M&M characters on its packaging For International Women’s Day.
Given the outside attention, some believe M&M’s announcement is a PR stunt to hype its upcoming Super Bowl commercial. But experts note that not all publicity is good. And M&M may be trying to regain control of a narrative that has gotten out of control.
“I think M&M’s ended up in more of a political debate than they had hoped for,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
M&M’s relatively subtle changes aimed at inclusion didn’t seem designed to spark much controversy, if any. But things have not turned out that way.
M&M unveiled the first changes to its characters in January 2022, such as swapping out Green’s go-go boots for sneakers and changing the shoes of other characters in what the company said was an effort to make the characters more relatable and inclusive. gave His message was similar when he added purple in September. A new female character. Then earlier this month the company celebrated Women’s Day in its logo by turning Ms upside down to look like a Ws – a typographical trick. McDonald’s used it five years ago..
Fox News humorously deemed the brand “whack” when the brand altered the characters’ shoes. Tucker Carlson complained about the new and, from his perspective, less “sexy” look for the Candy characters.
“M&M won’t be satisfied until every last character in the cartoon is extremely unlikeable,” Carlson said.
The tech machine also roams online, from Twitter to publications. In the Washington Post, for example, an opinion piece declared that “M&M’s changes are not progressive. Give Green his shoes back.” And after introducing Purple and the Women’s Day package, Fox News once again targeted the brand.
“What M&M has tried to do over the last few years is to be very inclusive, and to make sure that these characters are represented in a positive way,” said Calkins, the Northwestern professor. “They are being quite deliberate in their efforts to do that.”
What they didn’t want was to end up a target for right-wing commentators. “I don’t think he’s seriously set out to be a target for Fox News,” Calkins said. “There’s only two ways you can really play it here. Either you’ve got to back off the characters, or you’ve got to stand up and really get into the fight.
This week’s announcement suggests that M&M has decided to go with the first option. But it is doing so while winking at the controversy, a strategy that may ultimately work in its favor.
If, of course, the brand can pull it off.
When M&M’s announced its partnership with Maya Rudolph, she pointed to the reaction to Green’s shoes.
“Over the past year, we’ve made some changes to our beloved spokespersons,” said M&M’s. “We didn’t believe anyone would notice. And we certainly didn’t think it would break the Internet. But now we do — even candy shoes can be polarizing.
To say that the reaction to Green’s shoes broke the Internet might be overstating things in M&M’s favor. But the statement itself sparked further backlash online from other brands. Like A&W piggybacking yourself to get some attention.
And any sales impact of character changes or reactions to them is difficult to measure. According to a spokesperson, the brand has seen “record-breaking amounts of interest and conversions about our spokespeople.” But owner Mars, which is private, does not share sales figures.
Rudolph will star in an upcoming ad during the game, but the company announced the commercial’s return in December before the latest round of criticism, adding that the partnership wasn’t just a knee-jerk move.
The deal with Rudolph “has been in the works for some time,” Gabriel Wesley, chief marketing officer for Mars Wrigley North America, said in a statement this week. “Let me say conclusively that this decision is not a reaction in support of our M&M brand,” Wesley said.
As for the spokesmen – they may be benched for now, but they’re not going anywhere.
“The original colorful cast of M&M spokespersons is, for now, pursuing other personal passions,” Wesley said. According to the brand, fans will learn more about their situation in the coming weeks. It wouldn’t be unusual for M&M to take them out of the spotlight: the characters have been around since the 1950s, and M&M has leaned more or less heavily on them in promotions over the years.
But there is a risk of backsliding, notes Geraldo Matos, associate professor of marketing at Roger Williams University. Consumers may wonder if M&M’s has turned away from its original plan to use inclusion ideas to market its products. “They might have put themselves smack dab in the middle of upsetting both sides.”
Giving roles a break sounds like a good strategy to Lauren Labrecque, associate professor of marketing at the University of Rhode Island.
“I think they’re going to bring the characters back and probably within a year, if not less,” he predicted. “And when they come back, people — especially M&M fans — will have forgotten all about what the controversy was, and will be very happy.”
Plus, he added, it’s a low-stakes situation. “It’s not a serious outrage,” he said. On the spectrum of brand conflicts, “it’s pretty unnecessary.” Because of all of that, “it’s going to be a net positive.”