Ad agency BBDO, New York launched M&M’s “Better with M” campaign earlier this year in an effort to incorporate the candy into the M&M consumer’s everyday moments. Roy Benin, Chief Consumer Officer, Mars Chocolate North America explains, “‘Better With M’ showcases how M&M’S irresistible chocolate makes moments more fun and delicious. The ‘Better With M’ story is delivered through our colorful spokes candies, whose irresistible chocolate always makes moments even better – be they watching the Super Bowl, baking cookies, gathering the family together for a movie or even tailgating” (PR News Wire). The 13 million dollar campaign features television spots, print and digital ads, in-store displays, social media incentives, a Super Bowl commercial, and a massive cause-related marketing effort. Looking at various aspects of the campaign, M&M takes an integrated approach and utilizes advertising techniques from personification to personalization to create a unique marketing experience that speaks to a wide range of customers.

In an attempt to position M&M candies as an everyday commodity that can easily fit into life’s everyday moments, the chocolate company has the obstacle of trying to reach a very large audience that occupies a range of lifestyles. Mars is able to successfully mobilize a large demographic that encompasses everyone from mothers to fathers to teenagers to grandparents by effectively building a relationship with each and every consumer. The “concern for the stylistic integrity of branded products” lends way to a tactic known as personification, in which M&M utilizes to reach its consumers (Leiss et all 138).  The “Better with M” campaign gives life to its chocolate candies – each color with its own personality – as a tool to appeal to all types of consumers. Customers can meet the personalities of each candy on the M&M webpage and take quizzes to find out which color matches their personality.

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The stylish and glamorous Mrs. Brown is the brain behind the company, acting as the CCO (Chief Chocolate Officer) of Mars Chocolate. Mrs. Brown was unveiled earlier this year and has since been the star in many of the recent campaigns (making her worldwide debut in the 2013 “Devour” commercial) where her sexy glasses and high-heeled Marc Jacobs pumps speak to the independent female consumer. Next, there is Red, who claims to be “30 something with a genius I.Q and physical prowess.” He has the best of both worlds and therefore attracts the young professional male consumer. Yellow appeals to the younger crowd as he is “in touch with his inner child” and likes “pretty ladies and fluffy things.” Blue exudes confidence and enjoys “moonlight nights and jazz” as an emblem for the older demographic. Green represents the upper class female female, as her personality is intimidating and sassy. She prefers her candlelit dinner to be in Paris, and when asked about her best attribute she responds saying, “Honey, I can’t even choose. That’s your job.” Lastly, there’s Orange who is constantly stressed and doesn’t eat or sleep and represents the parental consumer base. By giving each and every color candy their own personality, M&M successfully leverages a very wide audience of consumers: “America’s favorite spokes candies, the fun and colorful M&M’S Characters, will come together to reinforce that “M” has always been the symbol of irresistible chocolate and to suggest new usage seasons and occasions including birthdays, back-to-school and baking, just to name a few” (M&M Press Kit).

By bringing the bright colored candies (and personalities) to the forefront of the campaign, M&M takes on a lifestyle format that speaks to a variety of customers. The lifestyle format combines elements of personalized and product-image formats and “immortalizes the trivial moments that tell consumers the appropriate social occasions for consumption” (Leiss et all 195). These advertisements place a product in conjunction with various leisure activities and within a consumption style that shows consumers how/where to use a product (Leiss et all 194). M&M implements this strategy in a variety of its campaigns, but it’s most prominent in the “Love Ballad” commercial that aired during the 2013 Super Bowl.

With over 108 million Americans watching the championship football game, “Love Ballad” gives life to the M&M brand. The spot features Red playing the piano and singing Meatloaf’s song “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Red interacts with a pretty brunette – holding her shopping bags, painting her nails, etc. but when the “I won’t do that” section of the song comes in, Red resists any activity that involves eating him – baking, licking, cooking. Who can blame him? “Love Ballad” exemplifies the lifestyle format that Leiss et al describes and consequently the very goal of the campaign – fitting the crunchy chocolate into life’s everyday moments, whether shopping or watching the Super Bowl. M&M creatively uses slogans, personification, and association in order to establish product identity in this commercial. The red M&M is brought to life and characterized with a unique voice, name, and personality. The commercial also uses association – images of the beach, shopping, cooking, watching movies with friends – in order to link the candy with pleasant experiences, as well as everyday activities (Leiss et all 139). At the end of the commercial, the slogan “Chocolate is better with M” comes in with hash tag #betterwithmms at the bottom of the screen. By inserting the hash tag in the commercial spot, it’s clear that M&M is attempting to launch a fully integrated campaign, blurring the lines between their television, digital and social efforts.

The signs found in advertising are used to structure and “boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and cultural value” (Goldman and Papson 81). In other words, signs are used to illustrate that ideologies and values of a brand’s consumers. Social Communication of Advertising, writes, “Semiotics highlights the way that we ourselves take part in the creation of meaning in messages, suggesting that we are not mere bystanders in the advertising process, but participants in creating a code that unites the designer and reader” (Leiss et al 164). Advertisers depend on these signs in order to communicate a point quickly and effectively to consumers.

MARS CHOCOLATE NORTH AMERICA M

In this particular M&M print advertisement, the signifiers include a library setting where each M&M personality is stripped of their color. By stripping each candy of their color, the advertisement signifies a sense of cohesiveness and is able to penetrate a large audience. Each M&M color targets a different type of consumer with their unique personality, but this advertisement illustrates that underneath it all each M&M (and everyone) is the same. M&M sets up this narrative to assign meaning to a chocolate candy: “sign values are constructed out of meaning, they must be articulated with reference to another system of value – a meaning system that is external to, and different from the product” (Goldman and Papson 89). This idea speaks to the campaign’s goal of incorporating M&M’s into the everyday moments of people. It doesn’t matter which M&M color the consumer identifies with, the candies characterize a sense of unity and togetherness. This particular representation promotes a normative view of the world that disguises and suppresses inequalities and showcases everyone as equal. M&Ms are candies for everyone and because no person is left out of their narrative, everyone can have equal access to this world of chocolate (Goldman and Papson).

The launch of the “Better with M” campaign prompted a more interactive online effort by Mars. Through contests, promotions, and digital advertisements, the candies take center stage as M&M successfully leverages all facets of the fully integrated campaign. The goal? M&M’s Press Kit states, “The 360° plan will [help] drive consumer awareness and engagement.” Each status post on Facebook comes from a different M&M personality and unites all marketing efforts. With Internet campaigns and strategies, there is an “emphasis on ‘pull’ and creativity, as audiences are provided the opportunity to engage with the message instead of simply enduring it” (Leiss at all 345). Through Facebook, customers opt to click on posts that are of interest to them based on the M&M personality posting. For instance, Mrs. Brown promotes the campaigns cause-related marketing effort when she asks fans “This weekend, I pledge my time to help M’Prove America and Habitat for Humanity Will you join me?while Orange urges fans to follow the M&M Instagram page.

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What makes the M&M social media experience unique is the fact that the product is the one communicating with the consumers. Personification has been a tactic used by advertisers for many years, but now, Twitter and Facebook allow for a new aspect of this function. As exemplified by the M&M Twitter and Facebook account, Mars is one of the first companies to take advantage of this social media affordance. When Ms. Brown was introduced to the public in earlier this year, she tweeted “Well behaved women seldom make history” -Laurel Thatcher Ulrich “Making history is easy when you’re the original milk chocolate.” Each M&M has their own Twitter handle and tweets according to their personality using the hash tag #betterwithmms to connect its customers.

Twitter Brown

Twitter Red

As Mark Andrejevic argues in “Productive Play 2.0: The Logic of In-Game Advertising,” the web’s version of consumption is interactivity where the consumer may be active, but their activity can be “captured, channeled, and directed” (Andrejevic 70). While Andrejevic focuses on online video games, his ideas about interactivity can be applied to M&M’s online presence. M&M engages with its customers by using its social media pages to leverage promotions and contests. For example, one particular promotion encourages consumers to be on the lookout for a bag of M&M’s with all black “M’s” for a chance to win $100,000 dollars. As the M&M Press Kit states, the black “M” symbol was printed on the candies in the brand’s early days, so this promotion honors that legacy. Consumers also have the ability to text the unique under-the-wrapper code for a chance to win from more than $225,000 dollars in instant prizes. A return text will immediately notify the consumer if he/she has won and will link them to Facebook so they can continue the conversation with other M&M customers. By using multiple platforms, there is a unique interactive component that combines the digital, physical and mobile space. Social media enables users to build a community in which they can chat and connect, and M&M capitalizes on this affordance. It is interesting to note, that even though M&M strives to make each customer feel like an individual, the company makes a large effort to connect each individual – urging customers to interact online.

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In conjunction with the “Better with M” campaign, M&M launched its biggest cause-related marketing effort in company history. The brand teamed up with Habitat for Humanity – an organization dedicated to building affordable housing  – and promotes the organization and their mission on its web page and social media platforms. In “RED is the New Black: Brand Culture, Consumer Citizenship and Political Possibility” authors Sarah Banet-Weiser and Charlotte Lapsansky explore the relationship between consumer and brand, specifically looking at how this relationship changes with varying levels of political, social, and civic participation. The authors write cause-related marketing campaigns are “illustrative of the ways that brand culture, defined as the complex set of arrangements, artifacts, and messages created and distributed by marketers to consumers in global society, is in a state of flux at this historical moment” (1249 Banet-Weiser Lapsansky).

Habitat

M&M’s cause-related campaign exemplifies these changes with two initiatives  “America Better with M” and “M-Prove America.” The former aims to provide funding for Habitat for Humanity by offering limited edition red, white and blue M&Ms (to be launched May-August) and donating $250,000 of the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity. Secondly, “M-Prove America” was launched as an effort to revitalize the M&M community where M&M’s enlist Americans to pledge 1.5 million volunteer minutes at Habitat for Humanity job sites around the country. M&M incentivizes participation via a Facebook app where users can pledge up to 8 hours of their time to volunteer. M&M urges customers to take pictures, post about their day and encourage friends to do the same.  By utilizing social media to capitalize on its cause-related marketing, M&M allows consumers to actively engage in efforts to make the world a better place.  Banet-Weiser and Lapsansky writes, “Contemporary marketers deploy new strategies as a way to both recognize and exploit changing identities, resulting in an increasingly more sophisticated and complicated exchange between the consumer and the brand in a shifting cultural environment” (1250 Banet-Weiser Lapsansky). While this exchange could be more complicated, as Banet-Weiser and Lapsansky argue, it could also be more beneficial and effective with hyper social segments (e.g. teens, young adults, etc.).

As exemplified through M&M’s various advertising efforts, the chocolate brand makes a great attempt to not only personify their product, but represent various facets of their consumer base. Media images and messages have important influences on people’s identity formation, and by targeting such a large cross-section of society, the “Better with M” campaign takes into account consumer diversity and makes M&Ms available to (almost) all. As I conclude my analysis, I wonder – what demographic segments are missing from the picture? The brand takes into account the social and cultural constitution of consumers, including class, age, gender, personal history (but not sexuality, race, or religion) in an attempt to be as diverse as possible. Giving the LGBT community their own M&M color and personality would be a huge milestone. As Larry Gross writes in “A Niche of Our Own,” “To be ignored by advertising is a powerful form of symbolic annihilation, but to be represented in the commercial universe is an important milestone on the road to full citizenship in the republic of consumerism” (233 Gross). I wonder though – how would M&M create a gay personality without falling victim to stereotypes? This would be tough as the gay community is far from homogenous, however, M&M’s could be features as “buddies” or  “roommates” by straight audiences, but as gay to same sex couples. This tactic, known as “gay vague” would not offend straight audiences, or even alert homophobic audiences. However, if M&M’s really wanted to push the envelope though, they could do a “Show Your Colors” campaign showcasing its bright rainbow colored candies.

Work Cited

Andrejevic, Mark. “Productive Play 2.0: The Logic of In-Game Advertising.” Media International Austrialia 30 (2009): 66-76.

Banet-Wesier, Sarah, and Charlotte Lapsansky. “Red Is the New Black: Brand Culture, Consumer Citizenship and Political Possibility.” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008): 1248-268.

Gross, Larry. “A Niche of Our Own.” Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York City: Columbia UP, 2001. N. pag.

Leiss, William, Jackie Botterill, Stephen Kline, and Sut Jhally. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Papson, Stephan. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The Consumer Society Reader. By Robert Goldman. New York: New, 2000. 81-97. Print.

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