Before they played the piano, sang, danced or appeared in Super Bowl ads, the M&Ms characters went for a little swim.
The little guys first made a splash way back in 1954, when Mr. Plain and Mr. Peanut jumped into a chocolate pool and rinsed off in showers that gave them their shell coating. Another early ad in the campaign -- which is the subject of this week's Rewind - begins with the "melts in your mouth, not in your hand" slogan before showing yet another dip in the pool. The now-famous tagline was just gaining traction at the time.
Suffice it to say, the early 1950s were a monumental period for the Mars-owned brand, which went on to become the top-selling candy in the U.S. by 1956, according to the Ad Age Encyclopedia.
But it would have never been possible without the ancient people of Mesoamerica. For it was in this region (modern-day central Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua), where chocolate was first consumed, as far back as 1500 B.C., when people drank it in liquid form, according to some historical accounts. Chocolate would be imbibed that way until the late 1800s, when it was finally available as a solid.
These are among the facts put forth by American Heritage Chocolate, an organization run by Mars Chocolate North America, which is getting more aggressive in its mission of educating Americans about the history of chocolate. The group recently expanded its line-up of chocolate products that are inspired by a recipe from the 1750s. The offerings are sold in stick, bites and block form at historical sites including Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon.
Mars was not created until more than 3,000 years after the Mesoamericans first slurped down chocolate. Frank Mars began tinkering with making butter cream candy in his kitchen in 1911. His company's first big brand was Milky Way, which debuted in 1923.
M&Ms did not come on board until 1941, when the bite-sized candies became popular with American service members during World War II. The name "M&Ms" comes from Mars and Murrie, which refers to Forrest Mars, son of Frank, and Bruce Murrie, the son of then-Hershey Chocolate Co. President William Murrie. Hershey at the time supplied Mars with chocolate covering, and the sons of the two founders were behind the M&Ms joint venture.
But M&Ms got out the gate pretty slowly with consumers. So Mars in 1950 hired the ad agency Ted Bates & Co. in a move to spur sales. "The agency soon found that while children loved the brightly colored candies, their parents were not familiar with the product," according to the Ad Age Encyclopedia. The response, led by legendary ad exec Rosser Reeves, was the "melts in your mouth" slogan -- a nod to the fact that M&Ms were the only candy sold at the time covered in a shell.
The characters came along four years later in a campaign that got heavy play on kids shows like "The Howdy Doody Show" and "The Mickey Mouse Club," according to Ad Age archives. These days, of course, the characters are A-list ad stars, making consecutive Super Bowl appearances.