Ads Bowing to the Pressure

Decades back when we first represented advertising agencies, the proliferation of titles involved executive vice presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents…well, you get the point. Someone once quipped “hand out titles, not raises.” Today, new positions abound in agencies. There are creative directors, chief experience officers, strategy officers, branding directors, and chief marketing officers. The latest misery to befall the maker of M&M candies evidences the need for a strategy king (or queen) in charge of sensitivity.

The M&M brand announced it could take “an indefinite pause” in using its “spokescandies” to promote the brand. Seems like some news pundits had decided fashion changes made to a couple of its iconic cartoon characters with spindly arms and legs growing out of an M&M candy with minimal facial features were unacceptable, or maybe just annoying. But certainly, the changes were the fodder that commentary is made of. Mars Wrigley, being a company that does not enjoy controversy, stated that its goal has always been to bring people together and not polarize them. It then stunned many when it announced its new spokesperson was Maya Rudolph, formerly of Saturday Night Live, and apparently a person who, M&M announced, had not been central to any culture wars. For now, the iconic humanoid candies would no longer speak for the brand.

What caused this to happen? Simply, M&M had replaced the high heels and stiletto heels of its green and brown candy spokesperson with flats, which were less sexy to some than their original footwear. Tucker Carlson’s commentary began the unraveling of the use of candy spokespeople when he quipped, “M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous, until the moment you wouldn’t have a drink with any one of them. That’s the goal. When you’re totally turned off, we’ve achieved equity.”

Carlson had found a bone to gnaw and continued to poke at M&M characters for their inclusion, including a new purple spokesperson. And although Carlson could find few who would chew the bone with him, M&M’s made the call to swap its well-known, and well-loved, spokespeople for Maya.

We can’t tell yet whether this is an M&M’s publicity stunt, or whether the candy spokespersons have truly succumbed to polarization. But here’s the thing. Whether real or a stunt (is M&M planning to bring the candy spokespersons back during the Super Bowl [as a reminder during this Super Bowl season, the NFL objects to use of its trademarked term] this innocent undertaking of design change by M&M ought to send a reminder to agencies that their ads need be in more than legal compliance. Yes, there is a real role for a director of sensitivity.