M&M’s Rebrand Is a Sweet and Sticky Mess

Jonah Malin

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Black and white M&M'sIztok Avsec/Canva

There’s something romantic about M&M’s. A kaleidoscopic collection of colored pellets dancing in your palm.

They tell a story.

Forrest Mars Sr. had come up with the idea for M&M’s after observing soldiers eating chocolate during the 1930s Spanish Civil War. Obviously, chocolate and heat don’t mix. It liquifies like butter in a frying pan.

So, the concept of wrapping chocolate in a hard candy shell was born. With it came a glorious tagline:

Melt’s in your mouth, not in your hands.

M&M’s were practical. They were colorful. The characters were fun.

We didn’t need them to be anything else.

The rebrand.

On Thursday, Mars announced in a press release that M&M’s were getting a makeover. The rebrand is a global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong, and society is inclusive.

This apparently means the green M&M is going to be less flirty. The orange one will now have its shoes tied.

Great.

The problem I see with our sticky friends over at Mars is twofold:

  1. A failure to separate business wants and needs from consumer needs. M&Ms sell chocolate to kids and families. Their audience wasn’t asking for them to be advocates.
  2. Show us, don’t tell us. Consumers aren’t stupid. They can smell virtue signaling like sharks in bloody water.

It’s a case of an overthinking corporate brand screaming how inclusive it is from the rooftops, then patting itself on the back after spending more money than God.

What's the solution?

Stop publicizing your shift in values. Embody them.
Stop telling us how inclusive you are. Be inclusive.
Stop trying to buy empathy. Have empathy.
Stop being so impatient. Calm down and breathe for a minute. A total shift in perspective about your brand takes years.

As a copywriter in the mission-driven space, I can tell you one thing: real purpose-driven brands don’t run campaigns like this.

Inclusion, diversity, self-expression — it’s all baked into their identity. It shines through in their *private* internal conversations. It’s organically part of their messaging and creativity. It’s not bought. It spreads through word of mouth.

If I were to advise the M&M’s marketing team, I would suggest leaning into being the guys that melt in your mouth, not your hand.

Make inclusion/diversity/togetherness your identity through actions, not words. Be good behind closed doors.

The pieces are already there without lifting a finger. M&M’s are a damn rainbow. The name includes an ampersand which begs togetherness. They have a wonderful origin story.

All they had to do was quietly shift their narrative internally.

It’s not rocket science.

Final thoughts

Listen, I get a lot of the backlash is an overreaction. This is fictional chocolate I’m talking about.

However, marketers should understand what’s happening here: we’re becoming the voice of large, national brands. We’re driving cultural conversations. BUT, we’re doing a pretty awful job.

The repeated sin is a brand selfishly trying to manhandle the spotlight, then getting punched in the jaw by the public.

Why?

  • They don’t understand their audience on a personal level.
  • They make a big, grand entrance on the heels of a movement.

Perhaps Mars will realize that telling us about your goodness is off-putting and suspicious. Perhaps not.

Let’s see how they respond.

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I am a content strategist, career advice author, and contributing writer based in Washington, DC. Join me as I explore health & wellness, productivity, philosophy, and life. Find me @Beyond Definition // Medium // Ladders // jonahmalin.com/barelyweekly

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