In 2016 the universe coughed up a national smorgasbord of shame and pain, a cataclysmic upending of truth, justice, and the American way. In a desperate attempt to support the correcting of our course, I subscribed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Atlantic, recognizing that if I valued the truth, I had better be prepared to pay the truth tellers who shovel through the banks of slime on a daily basis.
They did and do their best, and I still subscribe, faintly appreciative of their dedication to their craft as they report the muddle of the first year of the Biden presidency and very much aware of the tumult that may arrive again before institutions have been fully restored. These are not jolly times; pandemics generally disappoint. I seek comfort where I can find it, skimming the accounts of Putin’s attempts to allow us to feel the pain of losing hegemony in Europe as Russia did with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in order to slowly absorb the Washington Post’s account of seismic change in Mars Candy’s branding of M&M’s.
“Democracy Dies in Darkness” the Post’s banner promises, and so reporter Emily Heil shines the light on the forthcoming alteration of identity among the cast that the company describes as their “mascots”, the anthropomorphised sugar coated blobs of chocolate whose animated “adventures’ preceded the start of any film released in theaters until theater doors were shuttered.
It was not until I started to write about the “characters” that I realized that some had names – Ms. Green, Ms. Brown – while others were “male” and simply identified as Yellow or Red; I struggled then with the orthographic challenge in presenting the brand’s name. Mars, Incorporated, the forty billion dollar a year enterprise and the sixth largest privately held company in the US, describes it as M& M’s, the apostrophe a legacy of the unlikely sharing of resources owned by Forrest Mars,who held the patent on the process by which sugar coating could be hardened around a chocolate filling, and the monopoly on chocolate held by Hershey’s Chocolate Company during WWII. Hershey’s president, William Murrrie, was the other possessive “M”.
Here’s an aside that will be of interest to a small sliver of the population: Hershey was celebrated in popular culture during my youth as the company whose products needed no advertisement or promotion; that was a myth, of course, but still, no Hershey barrage for the most part. With regard to mascots, the only ripple in the Hershey stream are the costumed characters’ ‘ such as “Twizzlers’ ‘ and “Milk Dud’ ‘who are available for dance parties and selfies at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. My son and I were grabbed by Mr. Goodbar some years ago, but he seems to have been relegated to the trash heap of discarded icons, perhaps due to the notoriety he experienced when Hershey’s discontinued the use of cocoa butter, demoting his nutty goodness from “milk chocolate” to “chocolate candy”.
The Mars family, on the other hand, has been pumping out (pUmping out) its candy for decades, offering the “…melts in your mouth – not in your hands” line since 1949. The family of anthropomorphic candies has grown gradually, from the first pair (plain and peanut) who dove naked into a bath of chocolate to the alluring Ms. Green whose strip tease was almost as disturbing as the cognitive dissonance between “likeable” characters and the certainty of their being eaten, ostensibly “alive”.
Heil’s article is whimsy packed and lightly snarked, essentially illustrating the gap between the Mars initiative to bring greater representation of color and heritage to their team and the sensibilities of reasonably evolved contemporary humans. Heil fails to mention, however, that this initiative is not the first attempt to broaden the appeal of their confections. Any connoisseur of M& M’s in 2001 would remember the ill-conceived attempt to appeal to an Hispanic market with the production of the dulce de leche tablets, distributed in a select few locales – Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, San Antonio, and McAllen-Brownsville, Texas.
Pero, no, señor Mars. De ninguna manera.
The greater amusement is to be found in reading the Mars Brand press release: “Iconic M & M’s Brand Announces Global Commitment to Creating a World Where Everyone Belongs!” Should the reader think this pronouncement conveys an exaggerated importance of candy branding in a troubled world, Mars assures the reader that elements of global influence are already in place.
“The iconic candy brand’s announcement is built on more than 80 years of bringing people together with its bite-sized colorful candies and flavors and is part of the evolved M&M’S brand’ strategy built on purpose, which promises to use the power of fun to include everyone, with a goal of increasing the sense of belonging for 10 million people around the world by 2025.”
There are so many juicy morsels to parse here, starting with “… the evolved M&M’s brand strategy built on purpose” and sliding right into the “power of fun”, and let us remember that this is the Mars Candy empire describing itself, but grotesqueries of even greater consequence are yet to come.
After citing studies which indicate that humans like to be loved and to belong, the corporation delineates the evolution of branding dedicated to making sure that all people have access to the experiences where,”everyone feels they belong.” The initiatives in short are these:
- More nuanced personalities for the beloved characters allowing the power of storytelling to emerge.
- More variety of colors and shapes of M&M’s “lentils across all touchpoints to prove that all together, we’re more fun.:
- Added emphasis on the ampersand (&) demonstrating the aim to bring people together
- Inclusive, welcoming, and unifying tone of voice “rooted in our signature jester wit and humor.”
As any social scientist would be quick to explain, I am not making this up. In my most madcap excess of imagination, I could not have come up with “signature jester wit” as a description of a scantily clad Ms. Green’s attempts to cadge votes as a swimsuit model “working the polls” by straddling a stripper pole in go-go boots and handcuffs
Fox News’ non journalist Tucker Carlson, has claimed his place in the pantheon of nay sayers by lamenting the lack of sex appeal accomanying the newly nuanced Ms. Brown and Ms. Green. “You wouldn’t want to have a drink with any of them,” he complains after asserting that in being turned off by all colors of candy we have achieved equity. Yes, Ms. Brown, a nuanced female executive, no longer wears stiletto heels (she has feet?), and Yellow, formerly an idiot voiced in turn by John Goodman and J.K. Simmons, is no longer actively drooling, but the most creative shift may be in presenting Orange as the embodiment of Generation Z anxiety.
Eating characters we love is bound to make us feel that we belong to a global community of predatory consumers, and what could be more fun than that.
M&M’s – melts in your mind, not in your hands.