Mars' agency shift bears sweet results

By Published on .

Advertiser: M&M/Mars
Agency: BBDO Worldwide, New York
Rating: 4 stars

Was it the firefighter who paused from the raging conflagration to eat his Snickers? Or was it the hard-bitten investigative reporter who was Snickers-fortified to hector the governor? Hard to say which of those spots was the greater marvel of advertising brainlessness. And shamelessness.

But if it wasn't clear a year ago how awful candy-bar advertising can be, it's certainly obvious now--now that somebody's doing it right.

What cost Bates USA, New York, the M&M/Mars account, of course, was not TV commercials that suggested scarfing down a Snickers was a macho act of courage and a well-balanced meal all rolled into one. The problem was the Maurice Saatchi debacle.

When Bates' owner, Saatchi & Saatchi, decided its founder was too expensive to keep on the payroll, client Forrest Mars made quite clear he did not lightly regard such pound-foolishness. Saatchi & Saatchi management was unmoved, but $375 million of worldwide Mars business was--mainly, and serendipitously, to BBDO Worldwide.

It's as if Mr. Mars had quit eating his daily lunch at the Clam Pit because he hated the pushy new cashier and moved to the Oyster Bar, where, as he prepared to slurp down his half-dozen, he discovered a pearl. First on Snickers and now on M&M's, Mars is doing the most exceptional advertising in its history.

The strategy hasn't changed a bit; the new work still positions Snickers as a sort of interim meal. But the message is suddenly engaging, amusing, clever and generally wonderful.

In one spot, an outfielder shouts forlorn encouragement to his pitcher as ball after ball is launched 400 feet onto the scoreboard--BAM!--for a home run. "It's OK. No stick." BAM. "That's all right, we'll get it back now." BAM. "All right, come on." BAM. "This is the guy."

Then a voice-over: "If your next meal might be some time off, remember: Nothing satisfies like Snickers. Thick milk chocolate, roasted peanuts and creamy caramel. Snickers. Hungry? Why wait?" Then, BAM. Another tater. The outfielder: "That's OK."

In another spot, Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy keeps his team in the locker room "until we figure out how" to win a Super Bowl. So, yeah, grab a Snickers, because this is going to take a long, long time--a preposterous premise, to be sure, but at least one that's preposterous on purpose.

As for M&M's, who even remembers what the advertising looked like before? But BBDO's TV campaign introducing the blue M&M is delightful. Ignore the one featuring B.B. King (Blues. Get it?); it's lame and overproduced. But there's no matching the charm of spots featuring sitcom star Steven Weber and three Will Vinton Claymation-animated anthropomorphic confections.

"Hey, you must be the new blue M&M's," Weber says, and two of the candies, with their cheeks puffed out, nod yes, unable for some reason to speak. The third M&M witnesses the scene skeptically.

"How's it feel being the new guys?" Weber asks.

"Go ahead," the third M&M says, rolling his eyes. "Tell him."

When his pals finally open their mouths, gasping for air, they are revealed for the yellow and red M&M's they actually are. It's an inspired idea, and maybe Bates would have come up with it, too.

But you wouldn't have wanted to hold your breath.

Copyright February 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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