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Selling and marketing

M&M’S New Packaging Case Study

The 82-year-old brand M&M’S has recently made a fuss with a new candy pack featuring an all-female set of characters, including its newest addition “Purple”, who is a singer with lace-up boots instead of the high heel, and has a confident personality.

As stated by the brand, the limited edition all-female pack will include only Purple, Brown and Green – the candy’s trio of female characters who are put upside-down on the package – to celebrate women everywhere who are flipping the status. Contributing to its mission to use the power of fun to create purposeful cultural connections, the M&M’S brand works to “create a world where everyone feels they belong,” said Gabrielle Wesley, chief Marketing Officer for Mars Wrigley North America. Forrest Mars, Brand Founder, has earlier declared that a portion of the newly released edition profits will go to organizations that are “uplifting and empowering women,” including She Is The Music and We Are Moving the Needle, the nonprofit organizations that support women in the music industry.

History of Changes at M&M’S

In addition to adding Purple to the lineup, M&M’S has made others in recent months, including fine-tuning its logo and giving its six characters new shoes in an attempt to modernize the candies. For example, Green has swapped her go-go boots for sneakers, Brown is sporting lower heels, Red’s and Yellow’s shoes now have laces, Orange’s shoe laces are no longer united, and Blue’s shoes are little changed.

However, there was a massive reaction to these changes, especially to Green’s new shoes. An opinion piece in the Washington Post declared “The M&M’S changes aren’t progressive. Give Green her boots back,” and in a provocatively headlined article, Rolling Stone described the change as “nothing more than tectonic.” Thousands have signed a petition to “keep the green M&M sexy.”

Despite all the objections, there are no plans to restore Green’s look as the characters “are continuously evolving to reflect the times that we’re living in,” Jane Hwang, Global Vice President of M&M’S said. She also told CNN that the reaction to Green’s change was “unprecedented” and that made them “know for certain that M&M’S is a cultural icon.”

M&M’S Colorful Marketing Strategy

The big reason for M&M’s success has been its creative and integrated marketing across touchpoints year after year that has led them to achieve pop-culture status:

  • The Characters 

Building on the ’50s ads that had used two characters, the brand came up with the concept of M&M characters where each candy was given its own character, inspired by its color and with its own personality trait:

  • Red, the sarcastic.
  • Yellow, the simple.
  • Blue, the cool.
  • Green, the sexy.
  • Brown, the serious.
  • Orange, the nervous.

Shortly, the characters became central to the brand’s communication, packaging, advertising, and appeared as spokes-candies, responding to customers on social media in their quirky manner. 

  • Embracing Social Media

Recognizing the rising power of social media, M&M’s created its Twitter account as well as a Facebook page back in 2008.  Over the years, the brand has used Facebook extensively to promote its campaigns, and it has also built Facebook pages for some of its characters. Over the years, the brand has built a significant presence across all the popular social media channels:

  • The main brand page on Facebook, M&M’s USA, has more than 9.6 million followers.
  • On its Instagram account, the brand has 1.1 million followers. 
  • M&M’s is quite active on Pinterest as well, posting M&M’s based food recipes regularly to its 7.2 million followers. 
  • Crowd Sourcing & Co-Creation

M&M’s understands quite well that the best way to get consumers to be invested in the brand is by getting them involved in shaping the future of the product. So, they are constantly churning out contests, asking their consumers to help develop new products or vote for their preferred flavors or colors. One of their most popular contests was when partnered with Google Street View in 2010 and launched a contest in Canada, ‘Find Red,’ asking consumers to find the character on the streets of Canada. This contest was a huge hit, driving tremendous engagement, generating over 8 million social media impressions and 225,000 Twitter mentions for the brand. 

  • Personalization

Personalization is another lever that the brand has been using to connect with its consumers emotionally and make them feel involved in the co-creation. In 2008, M&M’s launched “FACES” to allow customers to upload personal images to their personalized candies. When you visit the M&M’s website, you have the option of customizing the candies that you can give as a gift to friends and family members for birthdays, anniversaries, or any other special occasion.

  • Innovation

In the course of time, M&M’s has experimented with many flavors to constantly drive its products’ frequency. To leverage on its popularity and brand strength further, in 2019, M&M’s expanded and introduced chocolate bars across a few critical global chocolate markets like USA, U.K., Australia to compete directly with the other chocolate bar players in the market. 

M&M’S the Cultural Partner 

Besides its keenness on being relevant to the ever-changing market, M&M’S always kept up with the trends, surprising their consumers by taking steps to be a part of the culture: 

  • Going Into Space: The crew aboard NASA’s first space Columbia requested to take M&M’s with them into space, and the brand obliged, making it the first candy brand to go into space back in 1981. Thirty years later, to commemorate NASA’s final space shuttle launch in 2011, M&M’S launched special-edition M&M’S just for that flight with the candy being decorated with images of the Atlantis shuttle. In 1992, when the shuttle Atlantis was doing its orbit of the earth, one of the world’s images was that of astronaut Loren J. Shriver eating floating M&M’S on the flight deck!
  • Olympics:  In 1984, M&M’S paid $5 million to be named “the official snack food of the Olympic games.”
  • New Millennium: In 2000, M&M’S was recognized as the ‘Official Candy of the New Millennium’ because it shares its initials with the Roman numeral MM for 2000. 
  • 75th AnniversaryTo celebrate its 75th anniversary and to connect with the younger audiences, M&M’s released a song, ‘The Candy Man’ on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and even the Grammys. 

But, as nothing is perfectly perfect, the brand had its share of misses too miss.  In 1982, M&M’S was allowed to be included in the famous director Steven Spielberg’s movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but the brand rejected the inclusion. The Hershey’s seized the chance with their brand Reese’s Pieces (M&M’s direct competitor), and it paid off as the movie became a blockbuster hit resulting in a massive spike in the candy sales of Reese’s Pieces, up to the extent of 300%!

Learning from M&M’S, it is crystal clear that in the last 80 years the brand has redefined marketing strategy at every given opportunity, and it will continue doing so in the years ahead, having the right formula of both good products and good people, as laid down by Forrest Mars. 

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