GG’s Kerry Close analyzes the recent M&Ms controversy over its spokescandies and provides important takeaways for brands considering a PR stunt.
When Mars Wrigley, the parent company behind the M&Ms brand, released an ambiguous Twitter statement last week announcing the retirement of its long-time “spokescandies,” many people’s initial reaction was to scratch their heads in confusion.
For those who haven’t been plugged into the minutiae of the spokescandy drama, here’s a quick summary: In 2022, M&Ms made some changes to the footwear of their female spokescandies. The green and brown M&M characters – who formerly wore high-heeled go-go boots and stiletto heels, respectively – were recast with more casual, flatter shoes. The changes incited backlash from a select number of commentators and folks on the Internet, most notably Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has decried the changes multiple times on his show, complaining, “M&Ms will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing.”
A lot of people aren’t familiar with this drama, though, and Mars Wrigley’s short statement didn’t do a great job at summarizing what got us to this point. Unsurprisingly, it led to a lot of outcry from fans and on social media who were deeply disappointed by M&Ms pandering to a few vocal critics – and even one brand, A&W Restaurants, poking fun at them. Then, in another twist, Mars Wrigley said later in the week that it was all a gimmick leading up to M&Ms Super Bowl ad, in which the spokescandies will be making their triumphant return.
All this confusion brings to the forefront a few important lessons when thinking about the payoffs – and downsides – of executing a PR stunt:
If you weren’t well-versed in the M&Ms footwear drama, you likely still weren’t after reading their Twitter statement. For a PR stunt to be pulled off successfully, companies need to center it around an issue that’s not only widely-known, but that can be concisely explained. If you need to go into a lot of backstory and explanation, you’ve already missed your moment to engage with your audience.
It’s important to consider how everyone will react to your stunt. Will the ultimate payoff be worth it in the context of any negative reaction that your customers, employees, or stakeholders might feel in the short term? A number of M&Ms fans didn’t feel the statement was aligned with the brand’s values, and they expressed their distaste vocally, turning the conversation and the current sentiment around the M&Ms brand negative.
While it turned out that Mars Wrigley was playing a long game with a bigger payoff, they could have put more thought into how things might have played out before the big reveal. In the days between the statement on Monday – and the revelation about the Super Bowl ad on Friday – the online conversation around M&Ms was centered around argument and controversy, and was likely counterproductive to the goals of the brand.
A PR stunt – when well-conceived and properly executed – can be a thoughtful and creative way to manufacture a big moment around your brand. But when you miss the mark, you may run the risk of people talking about you for all the wrong reasons.