If you’ve watched Fox News over the past year, or seen the clips, you’ll know that Tucker Carlson has quite the bee in his bonnet about a certain sultry woman. She wears green, bats her eyelids, and has a chocolatey centre. Anyone who buys her a drink gets to call her The Green M&M.
Famously, at the start of last year, this lovely lady turned over a new leaf. She got the plump pulled out of her lips, took it easier on the mascara, and dumped her heeled pumps for some sensible trainers. She wanted to be taken seriously as a woman, and Carlson was having none of it.
The internet was torn. The right were horrified, according to Carlson. It was just another example of woke media gone too far. The left, well, the left didn’t really care either way. She could be seen as a feminist ideal with or without heels, frankly. But the internet got into a heated debate that could only be rivalled by the discussion around pineapple on a pizza.
And now, in January 2023, Mars Inc. has had enough of it. The news on Monday was that Carlson has won. Not only will the Green M&M be pulled, but all the famed mascots, or “spokescandies” and the new additions that were getting rolled out will be pulled back into the realm from which they came. No more purple, brown, or even red and yellow M&Ms. Instead, Maya Rudolph has been called in as a less political alternative…? That’s questionable.
So, what can we social media marketers learn from this, the highest of marketing scandals since Pepsi were in talks with Kendal Jenner? There are a lot of lessons to be learned.
Characters versus brand ambassadors
The obvious distinction between Maya Rudolph and her fellow brand ambassadors is that she is not an M&M. She’s a real person. There are pros and cons to going either way, and they change with what you’re trying to sell. Tony the Tiger isn’t about to sell anyone perfume anytime soon, and kids aren’t likely to get excited about cereal that features a smiling Julia Roberts and nothing else.
Character mascots are playful and can do anything thanks to the magic of animation. But the main pro in their corner is that they’re not likely to offend and can get away with more because no real person did/said the thing that offended them. This argument from Carlson is absurd, and he knows it. And, like most character mascots, he hasn’t fired at The Green M&M herself, but the brand she represents.
On the other hand, in a similar situation, the heat around Kendell Jenner doing her Pepsi ad was aimed at her AND the brand. You can’t say to The Green M&M “You should have known better than to go along with this”. So, character mascots are a shield at first, but if something gets through, it’s going to hurt.
Does sex sell in 2023?
A tale as old as time: “Sex sells”. The Mad Men knew it, and it’s lasted this long.
Or has it? Well, the many internet voices that agree with Tucker Carlson sure seem to have a stance on it. Maybe the fact that M&Ms have taken a step back due to the backlash proves their point.
Sex selling is the bed that M&Ms have created for themselves. “Melts in your mouth and not in your hand” is not a phrase that can be heard without a wink and a giggle and it was trademarked in 1954. Since then, M&Ms have cheekily leaned into it. Red is caught in bed with a wife that isn’t his (and Yellow in the closet), Green gave us a seductive unzipping of her green shell that bordered on horrific, and the double meaning behind “I just wanna eat you up” is a running gag in their advertisements.
If it wasn’t for Fox News and those meddling kids, this semi-new direction M&Ms was taking would seem smart. They had established characters, a winking playful tone, and a political landscape where more women representatives were wanted. So they roll out the smart one, Brown, the cute one, Purple, and the sexy one, Green. Something for everyone. More creativity to be had in the ad campaigns. They were leaning into a political landscape that valued representation over sex.
Is politics still the way to go?
But the new marketing line is that strong emotions sell, and nothing prompts strong emotions like politics. This new generation of users are activists who vote with their wallet and aren’t about to back a company who don’t share its ideals.
M&Ms pulling all of their mascots screams of backing away from the fight. Carlson has won. The Green and the rest of the M&Ms are no more.
But they got what they wanted out of it: marketing to such an extent that it’s rarely seen. When was the last time you had a conversation about M&Ms that wasn’t “Are they superior to Skittles?” or “Did you know the Yellow one is JK Simmons?” As the saying goes, all press is good press. Tucker was doing Mars Inc a favour with his ludicrous rants about the state of America’s social ideals being put on one animated candy.
The lesson here is that if you are going to go the political route, go all the way. Say what you want to say “with your chest”, or you’ll lose all credibility backing into the bushes.
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Update 15/02/23: There has in fact been a comeback of the M&M mascots. Playing after the Super Bowl, and therefore somewhat forgotten, the mascots came back in an advertisement. Playing into the absurdity of the argument, the mascots stand in front of a press junket and explain their shock at ever having been “put on pause”. The implication – and the press banner at the bottom – says they’re back. You lose, Fox News.