Eye Candy: Gender and Sexuality in M&Ms Advertisements

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is known for featuring beautiful, scantily clad women draped across its cover. But do you know about the woman who was featured on the back cover for six years in a row, from 2009-2014? If you guessed a seductively posed green M&M, you’re right!

(Listen to Green talk about her experience “modeling” for the back covers here.)

When Mars Inc. decided to create characters for the different colored M&Ms featured in their ads they made the bold choice to feature four male personalities and one female. Each M&M is named after their color, and their personalities are as follows: Red is a self-confident leader, Yellow is an oblivious goofball, Orange is neurotic, Blue is cool and smooth, and Green (the female M&M) is a purring seductress (“Characters”). This blatantly sexist gender imbalance was partly corrected in 2012 when Mars Inc. launched the character Ms. Brown, a savvy businesswoman (Newcomb), but most of Green’s Sports Illustrated back covers were published before Ms. Brown was created, so I’m not going to take her character into account when assessing the female image M&Ms was promoting in these advertisements.

So, without further ado, here are the covers:

green mm 2009
2009
green mm 2010
2010
green mm 2011 real
2011
green mm 2012 (2)
2012
green mm 2013
2013
green mm 2014
2014

 

Six pictures of a piece of chocolate posed like a bikini model, that’s a lot to take in! We can begin to process what is happening here by thinking about the history of gender and sexuality in chocolate advertising.

There are a few groups chocolate ads have historically targeted. 1) The housewife looking to provide wholesome food for her family 2) Men looking to win over a woman in a heterosexual romance and 3) a woman looking to indulge a guilty pleasure (Robertson 22-35). These pictures of Green fit into categories 2 and 3. Because the chocolate here has come to life as a woman, which isn’t typical in chocolate ads, the implicit message is a little less straightforward than it usually is. Green sits as the embodiment of the stereotypical female obsession with chocolate. But, with her steady gaze and placement on the back of a magazine geared towards men, she also exists as a male-directed suggestion that M&Ms will improve your chances of seducing a woman.

I tried to create an ad that would avoid falling into these stereotypical categorizations. The most egregious problem I have with these covers is that they play into a trend in chocolate advertising of women being seduced by the treat. (This trend was pointed out by Professor Carla Martin in a funny blog post you can reach if you click right here.) These ads make the statement that an M&M without its shell is nude, and that the chocolate underneath is a sensual temptation. In these M&M ads this seduction is being performed more overtly than in most advertisements. Chocolate, here, is not a passive temptation. These back covers show Green stripping down to her chocolate inner while making eye contact with the camera, aware that the viewer finds her chocolate alluring. The unabashed way Mars Inc. in these ads correlates chocolate with sex appeal, and the way they put the burden of sexual appeal on their female character is alarming.

So the ad I created seeks to change the way the viewer perceives the character Green, while being an effective and persuasive advertisement that falls into the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit theme.2016-04-08 19.06.42 (1)

  1. I kept Green recognizably female. I want to show that representations of gender can be made effectively without stepping into a sexist mode of portrayal. Green gets to keep her high heel boots (despite their impracticality as beach shoes), and I gave her a hot pink beach towel to relax on. I want to show that women can be traditionally feminine without their gender performance relating to their sexual availability.
  2. I used a classic M&Ms advertising phrase “Melts in in your mouth, not in your hand” to tie the product into the Sports Illustrated beach theme. Green has a handful of M&Ms and is giving a thumbs up to show that they are holding up under the hot sun. She is selling the product here, not a sensual experience.

 

Works Cited

“Characters.” M&M’S® Official Website | Home. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

Newcomb, Tim. “M&Ms to Introduce New Character, ‘Ms. Brown,’ at Super Bowl | TIME.com.” Time. 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Images from “Ms. Green Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Appearances.” M&M’s U.S.A. Facebook Page. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

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