The M&M's update, the culmination of the "Great Color Quest" promotion that has turned much of the country's colorful candies black and white since January, is the biggest in a series of color-inspired integrated marketing efforts to fend off competition and maintain relevance among loyalists.
"We've always had color as a unique point of difference, but we wanted to reinforce that message in a fresh, contemporary way," said Janis Smith-Gomez, VP-marketing for Masterfoods' Chocolate division.
According to Steven Addis, president of Berkeley, Calif.-based brand strategy and design firm Addis Group, "Any mature brand has a lot to compete with since all the excitement gets taken by the new brands on the block." More than ever, he said, consumers actually expect change so as not to view a brand as stodgy. M&M's, he said, "is really smart" to combine the best of the tried-and-true with innovation and reinforce their association with color, which is what sets them apart.
The new M&M's feature a brighter mix of colors, including a brightened yellow and blue, as well as a larger M, and an updated package features a new trademark logo and a color illustration that highlights the brighter product mix inside, Ms. Smith-Gomez said.
An ad campaign from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, breaks March 11 featuring a series of spots that show interpretations of the brand by different artists. Although the spots veer from M&M's longtime focus on its M&M's spokescharacters, the conversant candies will introduce the spots and the new colors during interstitials on NBC's Thursday-night lineup (and will reappear in future spots, Ms. Smith-Gomez promises). Masterfoods similarly partnered with ABC when the M&M spokescharacters went on-air with Dick Clark during his "Rockin' Eve" program to launch the Color Quest promotion.
The first ad, "River of Chocolate," features a cascading chocolate river into which the new brighter-colored signature M&M's fall like water droplets. Other executions will play off that ad and focus on specific colors. Masterfoods spent $66 million on its M&M's brand for January through November, 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.
As with previous promotional announcements, Masterfoods will showcase its newly refreshed look with a celebrity-studded PR event, this time building a 6-domed building in downtown L.A. that will feature a celebrity spokesperson and a color in each dome. According to a company spokesman, the New Year's Eve event, featuring Megan Mullally of NBC's "Will & Grace" sparked some 500 broadcast placements including mentions on CNN and MSNBC within 48 hours. Ms. Mullaly will also host the L.A. event.
The new packages hit early in some retail channels, including vending machines and airports, even while the black-and-white packages were still slated to be the focus.