As it prepares to run a Super Bowl ad for the fourth straight year, Mars is taking what you might call an old fashioned approach. Rather than releasing its 30-second M&Ms spot early to create some buzz -- as has been the trend of late -- the candy maker still believes in the power of what top North American marketer Roy Benin calls the "anticipation bubble."
"We are continuing with what we call our surprise-and-delight approach," said Mr. Benin, the chief consumer officer for Mars Chocolate North America. "There's that first-time, premier reveal [in game] that we believe is compelling."
Indeed, Mars declined to discuss even basic elements of the ad - and has no plans to do so -- unlike some other marketers, which seek free publicity by touting ads in mainstream media. What's known is that the ad is by BBDO, New York and will run in the first quarter. Mr. Benin told Ad Age that the spot will be part of a new campaign debuting next week that uses a new tagline "Better With M," which replaces old line -- "not your average chocolate." Ad Age also confirmed that the brand will not be debuting a new M&M character, as it did last year when it introduced Ms. Brown during the Super Bowl.
That ad in which Ms. Brown is mistakenly assumed as being nude -- was also not released early and went on to win praise from neutral observers. The spot, called "Just My Shell," was ranked by Ace Metrics as the 12th-best ad in all of 2012. Mars has even credited the spot for significantly boosting M&Ms sales last year. According to the company's internal SymphonyIRI figures, the brand overtook Reese's as the top chocolate candy brand in the U.S. (Euromonitor International data shows a slightly different story, with M&Ms at 11.9% share of the chocolate candy category in the U.S, still trailing Reese's, which has 12.7%.)
Mars in recent years has been known to struggle with the decision over plugging its Snickers brand or M&Ms in the Super Bowl. Snickers appeared in 2010 and 2011, before M&Ms made its third Super Bowl appearance last year, following ads in 2000 and 2002.
By most indications, this year's call to highlight M&Ms was pretty clear cut. The reason is that the marketer wants to keep hammering a new positioning begun last year for the brand that emphasizes its "irresistible chocolate" credentials rather than simply "colorful fun" aspects of the bite-sized candy.
"We just feel that the chocolate message is a stronger one," said Mr. Benin, who took over as chief consumer officer over the summer from Debra Sandler, who was promoted to president. "We've had a record year with M&Ms in 2012 so there is some strong evidence that our strategy is working." Ms. Brown "was a great way for us to highlight in a fun way that M&Ms is not your average chocolate," he added. "We're sharpening it even further around the 'Better with M campaign."
And part of that involves disrobing the iconic M&M characters. One print ad shows Ms. Brown posing portrait-style with Red, Yellow, Orange, Green and Blue who appear naked, holding their colorful candy shells draped to the side like clothing. The first TV spot [below] is called "devour" and will debut next week on broadcast and cable TV networks. The ad shows the familiar byplay between the characters and humans with Ms. Brown setting up Red with a hot and hungry, sexy red head. (Could this foreshadow a starring role for Red in the Super Bowl?)
Mars says the campaign is "one of the largest marketing efforts ever" for M&Ms, which were first introduced in 1941 to American soldiers serving in World War II. Other elements include print, digital and in-store marketing and a cause-marketing partnership with Habitat for Humanity that will help fund the construction of new homes.
Mr. Benin described the total effort as "an occasion-based strategy" that will position the candy to be eaten while watching sports, movies, TV and other activities.
The new investment comes as competitors also step up their marketing game, creating somewhat of a chocolate arms race. Hershey Co., for instance, boosted ad expensesby 13% to 15% in 2012, the company recently told analysts, as it broadens its spending to cover more brands, including classic offerings such as Rolo.
Mars, meanwhile, keeps plowing money into its top two chocolate brands. Measured media spending on M&Ms grew from $87.7 million in 2010 to $103.7 million in 2011 and was at $97 million through October of last year, according to Kantar Media. Snickers spending jumped from $64.8 million in 2010 to $85.6 million in 2011 and stood at $72.3 million through October.
Snickers is expected to debut new ads later this year.