The iconic candies have become more “inclusive.” Is this a good thing?
By Melissa Farthing, Copy Editor
Since I was a young kid, my grandmother has fulfilled a tradition where she gives me blue M&Ms (yes, only the blue ones) every time I visit her. They sit in the exact same plastic container in the exact same spot on the coffee table each time I come to her house. I always count out each M&M, and the number always matches my current age. This last visit, as I was happily munching on my 21 blue M&Ms, a thought occurred to me: “You know, I don’t feel represented by the M&M characters. In fact, I’m deeply offended by their lack of inclusivity. Mars really ought to do something about it.”
That last part is totally made up, by the way, but apparently, Mars has gotten the impression that I and thousands of other candy-lovers feel this way.
Enter the M&M “rebrand.”
In January 2022, Mars Inc. unveiled a press release highlighting some changes their beloved anthropomorphic M&M mascots would be undergoing. When I first compared the “before” and “after” pictures of the chocolatey characters, I thought perhaps the website had made a mistake and posted the same image twice (much like that meme from The Office). However, when I took a closer look, I noticed that there were, in fact, some slight differences.
Here are a few of the alterations.
- The Green M&M now wears sneakers instead of go-go boots (probably the most significant change).
- The Brown M&M still wears heels, but they are a few inches shorter (I wish I was making this up).
- The Orange M&M’s sneakers will now be tied to show “confidence” (not sure what that means, but okay).
- Instead of tan, the arms and legs on the M&Ms will be an off-white color that compliments their shell color.
- The M&Ms’ prefixes (ex. Mr. Red, Ms. Green, etc.) will be removed.
- The Green and Brown M&M will be friendlier towards each other.
- The Red M&M will be kinder.
- The Orange M&M will “acknowledge his anxiety” (huh?).
Right away, you’ll notice that none of these adjustments are ground-breaking, which leads me to wonder: why? If you’re going to reintroduce your audience to your brand mascots, why not go for something grander?
For example, last November, Cleveland’s baseball team (my home city) unveiled their new name: the Cleveland Guardians. This comes after many years of the team holding a title considered offensive and hurtful to Native and Indigenous people in the United States. In other words, the change was a long time coming. When the Cleveland Guardians were officially announced, a huge celebration ensued; Tom Hanks even narrated the announcement video. While some were opposed to the change, most fans agreed that choosing a new, inclusive name was the right choice.
But was there really anything “wrong” with the M&Ms before this year? Were any people groups legitimately offended or hurt by their appearances or personalities? I’m a woman, and I loved the Green M&M’s boots! I thought they were iconic and fashionable. And while I also love a comfy pair of sneakers, why can’t the Green M&M be a strong, confident boot-wearing woman? Her new sneakers make her blend in with the rest of the characters, which I feel defeats the purpose of her personality.
That leads to my next question: why does the Brown M&M get to keep her heels? Sure, they are “a few inches shorter,” but they are still very much heels. I’m not a heels fan myself, but I would never view a fellow female as lessor or even “weak” for making this shoe choice. Heels, like boots, are fashionable! It seems hypocritical to get rid of Green’s boots yet keep Brown’s heels.
I’m also struggling to wrap my head around the need to remove the characters’ prefixes. Mars says it’s so that customers can focus on “their personalities, rather than their gender.” I can understand this, but the Green and Brown M&Ms are still inherently feminine. And the rest of the M&Ms have masculine qualities. Are the M&Ms supposed to be gender-neutral now? I’m so confused.
Part of the January press release was Mars’ new company mission statement. Here is the exact quote from Mars’ website: “M&M’s promises to use the power of fun to include everyone with a goal of increasing the sense of belonging for 10 million people around the world by 2025.” That sounds great and all, but I don’t understand how that’s a tangible goal. How can you measure a “sense of belonging?” Will Mars poll 10 million people three years from now to see if they feel like they “belong?” Belong where? What does that mean exactly?
These are just some of the many questions I have surrounding this pseudo-rebrand. While Mars certainly has good intentions, a few minor tweaks in their mascots’ appearances in personality aren’t enough to cause real change. I wish that Mars would instead focus on other genuine, successful diversity efforts they’ve made over the years.
In December 2021, the company released its “2021 Year in Review: Inclusion & Diversity, Sustainability, & Innovation” article (read it on mars.com). From that article, it sounds like Mars has had a huge year of success in this area, such as launching a gender equality study and being named one of Forbes’ 2021 America’s Best Employers for Diversity and Inclusion. As a consumer, I would much rather hear about these social outreaches than see a shoe-swap on a fictional character.
Despite everything said above, I will not stop eating blue M&Ms anytime soon.