M&M/MARS READIES U.S. CELEBRATIONS: MILKY WAY DARK RESTAGE ALSO SET

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M&M/Mars is planning new product lines for 2000 that are small, dark and handsomely budgeted.

First up is Celebrations, an innovative mix of miniature candy brands now sold in Europe that the marketer is considering bringing to the U.S. by early next year. Penciled in as follow-up is a relaunch of Milky Way Dark, this time dubbed Milky Way Midnight to lend a hipper, sharper aura.

HARD-CANDY TREATMENT

Bringing Celebrations to the U.S. won't be as simple as it sounds. It currently is marketed in a popcorn-style box, which contains mini versions of candy bars sized and cellophane-wrapped in the style of hard candy. Considerably smaller than Mars' "fun-size" bars sold at Halloween, they could require retooling the production process in the U.S., said an executive familiar with the plan.

Moreover, the product mix will require change since the European Celebrations contains only two varieties now sold in the U.S.-Snickers and the Mars bar, known here as Milky Way. The other varieties in the European line include Bounty, Galaxy, Maltesers and Topic.

It's said that Mars is toying with the idea of including at least one of those European candies in the U.S. version of Celebrations.

Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London, handles the European product and BBDO Worldwide, New York, has been assigned the U.S. business. BBDO declined comment, referring calls to Mars. Mars officials were unavailable for comment at press time.

CANDY MAKES THE MAN

A commercial running in the U.K.-set against the bouncy wedding reception standard song "Celebration"-portrays a wacky job interview, showing a comedic actor changing voices, personality and costumes befitting the candy he's eating. A bite of the Mars bar, for example, launches him into "Houston, we have a problem," and a piece of Galaxy sends him babbling about winning the Galaxy Award for self-indulgence.

The tagline: "Any excuse for a celebration."

Celebrations would give Mars a foothold in a segment owned in the U.S. by its keenest rival.

"Hershey leads the minis," said an executive familiar with the category, referring to Hershey Chocolate USA's mixed bag of mini versions of its chocolate bars, including the Hershey bar and Crackel.

The Milky Way Dark restage is further away. Although Mars has marketed Milky Way Dark for years, it's languished in the flagship brand's shadow. The product probably won't be reformulated; the base brand and its extensions were shifted to a new, milkier caramel formulation earlier this year.

But executives familiar with the plan said Mars wants to craft a "hip, urban image" for Milky Way Midnight through unconventional media and imagery.

D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, is the Milky Way agency and is said to have the assignment. Executives at the agency couldn't be reached at press time.

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