Following the controversy surrounding its recent advertising campaigns, M&M has announced that it will take an “indefinite pause from the spokescandies.” Is M&M suggesting inclusivity and female empowerment aren’t worth fighting for?
The controversy started last January when the green M&M spokescandy exchanged her white go-go boots for white sneakers. At the time, the Mars company said in a statement they were “creating a world where everyone feels they belong.” Furthermore, it noted that Green’s change in appearance reflected “confidence and empowerment, as a strong female, and known for much more than her boots.”
Initially, when the spokescandies were created in the 1990s, Green was the token female accompanied by three male candies, Blue, Yellow and Red. Rumors suggest that Green’s sexy boots and personality could be traced back to a myth that green M&M’s were an aphrodisiac.
In 2012, M&M’s added Brown, another female who had reportedly worked for decades behind the scenes as ‘chief chocolate officer.'” Last January, when Green ditched her boots, Brown simultaneously traded in her stilettos for more comfortable-looking pumps with lower, block heels.
Some disagreed that the wardrobe change was empowering for women. Tucker Carlson found the M&M’s without heels “deeply unappealing” and no longer wanted to date them (or at least, no longer wanted to drink with them). Kat Timpf, also from Fox News, stated that Green was “an opportunistic, evil bitch” and suggests you should “run from women like the green M&M.”
Last September, M&M introduced another female candy, Purple. A peanut M&M and the first new color in over a decade, Purple was designed to “represent acceptance and inclusivity,” according to a press statement. Her debut included a song entitled “I’m Just Gonna Be Me.” (Although the purple confection was added to the spokescandy lineup, no purple candies were added inside M&M packages.) Conservatives immediately suggested that the new purple candy must be transgender, and the candies were labeled “woke.”
The last straw seemed to come in December when the candy introduced all-female packaging to promote International Women’s Day. The new packaging featured the three female M&M’s, Green, Brown and Purple. One dollar from each limited-edition pack, up to $500,000, was to go to female-empowerment organizations. Again, not something that appears particularly controversial. Nonetheless, one Fox anchor suggested the feminist pack emboldened China.
Seeming to give up on the messaging, M&M’s tweeted this morning that they didn’t want to be polarizing and would replace the spokescandies with a human spokesperson, Maya Rudolph. There was no mention of the irony that their candies’ advocacy for inclusivity became too polarizing. Rudolph will debut in M&M’s upcoming Super Bowl LVII campaign.
M&Ms responded to a request for comment by email, stating that the spokescandies were going to “embrace a new path to pursue other passions.” And the brand “will share more on the spokescandies new pursuits over the next few weeks.”
M&M was not the first brand to advocate for social issues. Companies often weigh in on social and political issues. Nike, for example, notably supported Colin Kaepernick after he took a knee during a football game to protest racial injustice and bigotry. In 2020, following the death of George Floyd, Nike ran its “For Once, Don’t Do It” campaign. It urged consumers not to ignore injustice and “pretend there is not a problem in America.”
Patagonia used its website to call out the Trump administration for reducing the size of two national monuments. “The President Stole Your Land” appeared when visitors landed on the home page of the retailer’s website.
And Tampax was criticized for its inclusive advertising of tampons for “people who menstruate.” By comparison, shoe preferences and the color of candies seem relatively innocuous.
Surveys show that a large majority of young people want brands to take a stand on social issues. One survey found that 87% of people will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. But 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. In other words, there are risks involved.
In the case of M&M’s, they seem to be sending the message that female empowerment and inclusivity aren’t worth that risk. It’s not that women or LGBTQ individuals need anthropomorphized candies to advocate for them. They don’t. But axing the candies after pushback from conservative commentators is reactive, insulting and suggests these groups aren’t worth the fight. As for now, the spokescandies remain on the Mars.com website. Perhaps the brand will reconsider.