M&M’s, the iconic candy-coated chocolate discs, were created by Forrest Mars, the son of the Mars Company founder, and appeared in shops in 1941. The market for M&M’s, along with that of the rest of the chocolate industry, has shifted drastically over the past seven-and-a-half decades, going from a candy bought in quantity for U.S. troops serving throughout Europe in World War II(due to it’s heat resistant shell and portability), to the top selling non-military consumer candy in the U.S., raking in over $673 million dollars a year (“The Wartime Origins Of The M&M – Hungry History”, “America’s 25 Favorite Candies: M&Ms”).
With the changes to the U.S. chocolate consumer base, the advertising used to promote products such as M&M’s adapted to reflect the times and new consumers; however progress towards accurately portraying women in these ads has been slow.While still being consumed by the U.S. armed forces, M&M’s today are primarily consumed by women, most of whom hold college degrees, with many raising children while earning upwards of $60,000 dollars a year (Allred et al). Accordingly, over the 75 years of M&M’s existence, the Mars Company transitioned from their impersonal “Melt in your mouth, not in your hand” slogan, to using M&M cartoon-like characters with unique, quirky personalities which appeal to women, to promote their products (Allred et al).
In 2012, enter Ms. Brown, the smart, glasses-wearing, witty, sophisticated, and sexy M&M, on a date with a striking young man in a romantic and quaint cafe that looks like it could be on the French Riviera. The conversation turns from the man calling Ms. Brown delicious (or if we translated the candy speech, “beautiful”), to Ms. Brown quipping that he loves only her milk chocolate body, and not her brain. After deliberating for a moment, Ms. Brown responds with “Gosh, you’re handsome”. I posit that this exchange, and the greater Ms. Brown personality represents a balancing act on the part of the Mars Company between the historical sensuality associated with chocolate and cacao, and the push to more-accurately portray women as they want to see themselves in marketing materials.
In order to understand the importance and purpose of sensuality in chocolate ads, we need to back up to 1995 when Mars introduced their first female M&M character: A green-colored, high-heeled boot wearing, shallow and flirty personality known as Ms. Green. One might assume, on first glance at the sexualized portrayal of Ms. Green, that the advertisements were meant to attract male consumers; however it is equally, if not more, likely that they were targeting women. First, the aphrodisiacal effects of cacao, as well as the substance’s precolonial use in fertility rites, and the colonial adoption of cacao as a romantic food, created an air of novelty and seductiveness surrounding chocolate and cacao (Woloson). Second, research shows that men, but even more-so women, often visualize or “dream” the outcomes of eating the foods portrayed in ads, and are then more likely to purchase the product (e.g., a person may view the Ms. Brown ad and come to desire the charming man and romantic cafe, and then associate the eating of M&M’s with that visualization) (Reeves, 27).
Ms. Green was the female trail-blazer among the M&M characters, and while it could be argued that the personality should have been far more nuanced from the start, it sold M&M’s. Seventeen years later Ms. Brown appeared as the overachieving M&M operations manager, and helped to diversify the M&M line and better represent consumers. Nearly half a decade later, it’s time again for a new female M&M personality: One that doesn’t need to overachieve to prove a point. One that embraces the sensuality and elegance of Ms. Green, the wittiness of Ms. Brown, and the strength to resist temptation in the face of objectification (i.e., “Gosh, you’re handsome”, replaced with “You can love both body and brain, or not at all). Introducing the new Ms. Purple:
- Allred, Alana et al. M&M’s Brand Case Study Update. 1st ed.
- Woloson, Wendy A. Refined Tastes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Print.
- ”The Wartime Origins Of The M&M – Hungry History”. HISTORY.com. N.p., 2014. Web.
- ”America’s 25 Favorite Candies: M&Ms – Bloomberg”. Bloomberg.com. N.p., 2016. Web.
- Reeves, Kira-Lynn, Brennen, Bonnie, Garner, Ana, and Turner, Lynn. Manna from the Glossy Pulpit: Food Advertising in Women’s Magazines (2012): ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Web.