MARS TIES ITS M&M'S BRAND TO MILLENNIUM: AD BLITZ TO GET 2-YEAR HEAD START ON 2000 FERVOR

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M&M/Mars is embarking on a huge advertising and promotional campaign themed around the millennium -- but it isn't waiting until the year 2000 to do it.

Instead, Mars will launch its effort for M&M's candies, code-named "Project Decade," two years early in an effort to stand out in a sea of millennium-related events.

"The idea is to break it in '98 and allude in the advertising, kind of tongue-in-cheek, that they're a step ahead before everybody and their brother launches millennium stuff," said an executive familiar with the company's plans.

'BIG CHUNK' OF $65 MIL

Although spending on the promotion wasn't readily available, another executive close to the company said Mars will spend "a big chunk" of its annual M&M's budget -- estimated at $65 million -- against the millennium push beginning early in the first quarter.

"This is a really big program," said an executive.

The advertising and promotion are based on the idea that "M" is the Roman numeral for 1,000, so M&M equals 2000.

Four TV spots are in production for the campaign, featuring the male red and yellow M&M's characters.

"The female isn't in it," said an second executive with knowledge of Mars' plan, who added that the green female M&M will return in future campaigns.

BBDO Worldwide, New York, is M&M's agency.

CONSUMER PROMOTION

The advertising also will help support a sweeping consumer promotion on the order of the company's "Imposter" effort this year. That promotion asked consumers to find a gray M&M in their packages of candy, giving away $1 million to those locating the colored candies.

Mars confirmed the company is designating M&M's as "the official candy of the millennium," with new bursts on packaging. But a spokeswoman said ad and

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