Did M&M’s characters need a makeover?

Discussion
M&M Green, before (left) and after (right) - Sources: Mars, Incorporated
Jan 28, 2022

Mars has updated M&M’s five anthropomorphized color-coded mascots that appear in marketing campaigns as a way to promote inclusivity, leading some to question whether it’s another case of “wokeness” run amuck.

The changes, according to a release, include a “more modern take” on their appearance, with the biggest changes made to the two female characters.

Green, often seen as the “sexy M&M,” no longer has one hand on her head and another by her hip in a come-hither pose. Her signature white go-go boots have been exchanged for sneakers that Mars said reflects the relaxed dress code of the pandemic.

Brown, the other female character, has likewise switched her stilettos for pumps. Marketing efforts moving forward will present characters in different shapes and sizes to promote diversity.

The company says the update also reflects “more nuanced personalities to underscore the importance of self-expression and power of community through storytelling.”

Green is being reimagined as more confident, Red as less bossy and Orange now acknowledges and embraces his anxieties. Yellow, the goofiest M&M in the past, becomes the optimist.

Finally, the makeover includes “an updated tone of voice that is more inclusive, welcoming and unifying, while remaining rooted in our signature jester wit and humor.”

Toning down the sex appeal of M&M’s feminine characters became the butt of jokes across the internet last week, and the overall strategy struck some as an overreaction to cultural sensibilities. The changes follow recent rebrands by Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Eskimo Pie and Ms. Butterworth over racism concerns.

M&M’s often relies on broad, physical humor that sometimes plays to sexist themes. Green, the first gender-oriented character launched with a 1997 Super Bowl commercial, may have already offended some with her long lashes, pouty lips and appearances in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, once posing on a stripper pole.

Mars, however, asserts the refresh aligns the characters with the times. Jane Hwang, global VP of M&M’s, told Adweek, “We took a deep look at our characters, both inside and out, and have evolved their looks, personalities and backstories to be more representative of the dynamic and progressive world we live in.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Were M&M’s mascots outdated or were the updates an overreaction to cultural sensitivities? How do brand managers determine when a refresh is necessary?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Did M&M’s characters need a makeover? I don’t really know, but they sure have generated a lot of conversations and have received a lot of attention."
"Apparently some people have lots of time to be outraged by Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss and M&Ms. Get a life, people."
"Did the M&M’s characters need a makeover? As a whole, probably not, but there were times when I thought “Ms. Green” was a little over the top."

Join the Discussion!

24 Comments on "Did M&M’s characters need a makeover?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

Honestly, political “wokeness” or cultural insensitivity aside, it seems like a surprising use of money and people’s time, especially during the pandemic. As a former brand manager, I often say we did brand refreshes because it was fun for us, not because it was needed by the consumer or otherwise.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

SO TRUE!

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

So the brown M&M stays the same? It’s candy. I honestly don’t know why people are offended by candy. Did someone or a group of people say the candy was bossy or confident? What’s next?

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

The old saying is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity — this move may prove that saying wrong. A clear case of pandering to their view of cultural sensitivities and then trying to take advantage of it. If they were concerned that a refresh was needed, make the refresh and let others notice that you may (or may not) be more in tune with your target audience.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Apparently some people have lots of time to be outraged by Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss and M&Ms. Get a life, people.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

As a foreign-born, moderately liberal person, I am as sensitive to racial bias and inequality as anyone. However, we may have overplayed this card and become “oversensitive.” I liked that Aunt Jemima pancake mix, and Uncle Ben’s rice box. Each conveyed a warmth that the new packages don’t. I never saw either as offensive or stereotyped but rather as down-home, country and warm message. M&Ms and a new Minnie Mouse outfit? Naaah.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Mars may be overthinking what people think about anthropomorphized chocolate candy, and the pundits on one side or another are equally guilty. But I have to point out that the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s “characters” were in need of retirement long ago. They evoked not just racial stereotypes but especially the image of the “happy house slave” (see: Gone With The Wind). This was one case where “political correctness” was appropriate.

Rick Moss
Staff

The brand managers at M&M clearly want people to think beyond candy — they’re looking to position the brand as a progressive social leader. The question here isn’t how offensive or not Green was, but whether it profits a brand to pose as an institution that promotes “a World Where Everyone Feels They Belong.” That’s so far from selling fun candy, it’s hard to fathom, but that kind of lofty aspirational thinking worked pretty well for Apple, so maybe we shouldn’t knock it.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

Herein lies the issue — the brand managers want us to think beyond candy. I would argue most consumers enjoy M&Ms for what it is — an iconic brand that reminds us of childhood and great memories, so we continue to purchase. I don’t expect my peanut M&Ms to be a progressive social leader.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Rick,

You’re right, up to a point.

I guess my point is that that is a tough position to maintain when you are in a category that has larger social impacts like Diabetes Type II, obesity, heart disease, etc., etc. This is NOT to say an occasional handful of M&Ms is going to land you in the ICU, but it is to note that as a brand and a company there are some fairly important things to do in terms of consumer education and nutritional counseling.

It’s always good to stretch to address a good cause, but only after you make sure you’ve covered of all the bases. The point of the ads — woke or not — is to get people to consume as much candy as possible, not exactly the most socially responsible goal.

Rick Moss
Staff

And I’m with you, up to a point, Ryan ; ) Let’s be real: a consumer is indulging in a bag of M&Ms and feeling good about themselves because they’ve chosen a brand that celebrates inclusiveness and respect. Is this not a perfect way to deflect their thinking away from their health issues? Brands pick their causes and are never (I would argue) able to cover all their bases. Sneaker brands celebrate the power of women and diversity while employing child labor overseas. And it seems like they’re getting away with it, for the most part.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

We live in a era when news commentators are looking for new things to be upset about. If they don’t have something to be outraged about, they don’t have anything. This was a red herring from day one.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Did M&M’s characters need a makeover? I don’t really know, but they sure have generated a lot of conversations and have received a lot of attention. Even Jimmy Kimmel (and others) have featured then on national television. Not bad!

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Over the last 90 years Mickey and Minnie have evolved with thee times. There is nothing wrong with a different M&M evolving their characters.

However, this does not have the same consideration as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Eskimo Pie and Ms. Butterworth. Putting in the same category is huge stretch.

Net, net, I have already written more words than the subject demands.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The short answer is yes. It was as waste of time and money. The net effect of the new mascots ads is to call attention to the old ones. I doubt that many consumers gave much thought to the “issues” M&M says the new mascots are try to correct.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Personally, I like M&M’s, but a company that makes money by getting kids to consume more and more sugar has better things to worry about than whether or not its mascots are woke. Show me the Type II Diabetes education material for grade schoolers, and then we can debate appropriate footwear for cartoon characters. As to brand managers, I think many of them see “refreshes” as a path to personal, rather than brand, promotion.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It’s always good to do an update every once in a while. In this case M&M’s are making a change that is tied to what’s happening in the world with inclusivity. It may be costing them to do so, but look at the publicity it is generating. In most cases, it seems like a change of clothes and some attitude adjustments (smiles, frowns, grimaces, etc.). Good for M&M’s!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Did the M&M’s characters need a makeover? As a whole, probably not, but there were times when I thought “Ms. Green” was a little over the top. M&M crossed a line when they put her on a stripper pole, and had her zip off her outer shell while being ogled by Yellow and Red. I realize we’re talking about candy here, but it is what it is. The change is probably a good one.

Lucille DeHart
BrainTrust
I love this question and want to go on the record how much I love the Yellow M&M character! He is my favorite! Obviously, brands need to evolve to better represent their community and the world at large. If commercials still only showed women in the kitchen with aprons on, I think they would soon be met with a flurry of opposition. That said, we need to allow for some creative personality. Whether a green animated candy piece wears boots or sneakers is actually diminishing and not fostering an inclusive community. Candy everywhere should be able to wear whatever they want and not be defined by their accessories (see how silly that sounds). Seriously, though, if a girl wants to wear heels because SHE likes them–that is empowerment. This WOKE world we live in is making us bland, not tolerant. The more we judge, the more judgmental we become. Yes, brands need to be sensitive to outdated depictions of their consumer, but no, brands should not just change for change sake. Marketers really just need… Read more »
David Slavick
BrainTrust

Dynamic and progressive world we live in. Alternatively, a hyper sensitive world that overreacts to cartoon characters or something in between. We are talking about a candy right? The buzz positive or negative is great, but I doubt it will lift sales. Mars does an awesome job of making the characters fun, likable and generate an emotional reaction. Let alone all the different formulations of the product — going way beyond no melt chocolate treats to peanuts and beyond. A refresh is necessary when you want to generate new news, but on a sustained basis and perhaps aligned with a new product introduction or in this case pre-Super Bowl, so pre-emptive.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

The problem, I think, is in issuing a press release about it: what would have been a run-of-the-mill tweaking that no one would notice. How many times has the Quaker Oats man had his hair trimmed, or gotten a facelift? Or been cared about enough to become a flashpoint of controversy? Frankly I’m offended by how often people seem to be offended. Enuff said.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I read all of the 21 comments before mine, so I will make mine short and to the point in case anyone gets down to my comment. It is just candy, and most people buy M&Ms don’t care about the personality or the dress or the body shape. They care about the feel-good feeling it creates when you eat those M&Ms.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

The food industry has gone Woke and it is sad to see.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
3 months 24 days ago

With moves like this brands potentially tread a very difficult line. I read a piece by a journalist last week discussing such actions and the fact that it could well have serious consequences in terms of profit for shareholders, but also draw attention to activities that potentially contradict actions taken. Examples given were companies who are pro-woke but have lobbied the U.S. Congress to water down a proposed Forced Labour Prevention Bill; a bank who campaigns for opportunity and open borders owns shares in a corporation sanctioned for horrendous atrocities.

The piece also reminded of the highly publicised story that Unilever may struggle to find a buyer for its Ice Cream business because of the views expressed by the Ben & Jerry’s brand. Worth a read, with an open mind perhaps?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Did M&M’s characters need a makeover? I don’t really know, but they sure have generated a lot of conversations and have received a lot of attention."
"Apparently some people have lots of time to be outraged by Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss and M&Ms. Get a life, people."
"Did the M&M’s characters need a makeover? As a whole, probably not, but there were times when I thought “Ms. Green” was a little over the top."

Take Our Instant Poll

What grade would you give Mars for its makeover of M&M’s character mascots?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...