How Authentic is M&M's Pledge to 'A World Where Everyone Feels They Belong'?


EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday January 30, 2022
Originally published on January 28, 2022

How Authentic is M&M's Pledge to 'A World Where Everyone Feels They Belong'?
  (Source:M&M's Chocolate/YouTube)

In simpler times, M&M's were binary: Plain or Peanut.

Today, heads are spinning over the chocolate brand's latest bumbles with gender, sexuality and personal representation.

Last week, M&M's brand chocolate candies press release announced "a global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong, and society is inclusive" beginning with a "fresh modern take on our beloved characters and more nuanced personalities to underscore the power of self-expression."

In one of the first steps toward this brave new world, the candy mascots previously referred to as Ms. Green and Ms. Brown will forthwith be called Green and Brown. The brand's goal here, reported Adweek is "to prompt people to focus more on their unique personalities rather than their gender."

In a related move, the two characters will no longer be depicted in high-heeled footwear: Green's go-go boots have been replaced with nondescript sneakers, Brown's stilettos with clunkier pumps.

"Apparently their less stylish shoes somehow 'underscore the power of self-expression'," joked a queer former marketing agency executive who did work for M&M's in an email to EDGE. "The brand has a history of awkward dealings with gender and sexuality in connection to its anthropomorphized avatars."

In June 2015, the official @mmschocolate Twitter account posted an image of then-Mses. Green and Brown cozying up to each other and holding hands on a seaside bench. But after the clip was widely retweeted among LGBTQ+ folks, the M&M's brand would not comment on the intent or implication of the illustration.

"That was almost certainly a quick hit Pride Month publicity stunt. Generate the buzz, be noncommittal, then disappear," said the former marketer, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons.

"Given the media's history of using lesbians to titillate straight male audience, it's worth noting that M&M's has only implemented corporate-sanctioned homosexual innuendo with female characters." The source went on to detail two instances in the early 2000s when MARS executives were much more conservative in regard to the male Red and Yellow characters, the brand's flagship mascots.

"At the agency, we were working on a supermarket display to promote at-home snacking with M&M's—the main illustration had Red and Yellow sitting on a couch watching TV. When we sent our draft art to the brand marketing team, they insisted we redraw it. Their feedback was that the candies were sitting too close to each other, and that the way Red's arm was propped on the back of the sofa might be interpreted as him trying to touch Yellow 'in a gay way.' It was ridiculous!"

"I remember fuming at that redesign order, but I took a perverse sort of revenge a few months later. M&M's had produced T-shirts featuring a still from a popular TV commercial in which "Wayne's World" actress Tia Carrere gregariously kissed Yellow. Freeze-framed on the shirt was a lovestruck, moony-eyed Yellow with bright red lip prints all over his shell."

"I went to my boss, cynically feigning alarm: 'Whoa! If you haven't seen the commercial, it looks like Red and Yellow have been making out!' To make a long story short, this 'gay' interpretation went up the chain of command and the T-shirts were pulled from retail and destroyed."

While Mars, Incorporated has demonstrated commitment to a diverse and inclusive internal corporate culture—including receiving the highest possible score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index, enforcing strong non-discrimination policies and providing fair benefits to LGBTQ+ employees—the company has stumbled at manifesting these values in its brand advertising and promotion. "As far as I can see," says the former marketer, "This new diversity campaign is little more than an attention grab: Candy-coated virtue signaling."