M&M's vs. Hershey's Kisses -- a Media Trick or Treat?

Optimedia's Antony Young Compares Sweet Media Strategies

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Antony Young
Antony Young
This Saturday, kids in neighborhoods around the country will dress up as their favorite witches and ghouls (or perhaps Sarah Palins and Bernie Madoffs) to do that trick-or-treating thing. Americans will fill their shopping baskets with a whopping 600 million pounds of candy during this Halloween season. This represents a crucial sales period for the country's two largest confectionary manufacturers, Mars Snackfood US and The Hershey Company, as each looks to make their year. Here we analyze the 2009 media plans for their flagship brands: M&M's and Hershey Kisses.

Overall marketing programs
In the past year, M&M's advertising has pushed its M&M's Premiums flavor variants and customized My M&M's blends, including the My NFL Blends. M&M's is also a fixture to Nascar fans via their branded racing car and sponsorship of Kyle Busch.

This Halloween, M&M's is running its familiar "Headless Horseman" spot that features an M&M riding on a horse on Halloween night. The ad lures viewers to its website by ending with a voiceover announcing a one million dollar contest at www.mms.com. Along with the promotion, the website houses many Halloween-themed pages and links.

Earlier this month, M&M's announced a limited edition blend, My Kiss M&M's (as in the rock band Kiss) that was specifically timed for the launch of the group's new album and tour.

In past years, M&M's has significantly outspent Hershey's Kisses in media, according to TNS Media Index, by about $84 million compared to $14 million to $16 million. In 2009, Hershey's stepped up its media advertising investment significantly to almost $36 million for the year.

This Halloween, Hershey's introduced Kisses in three-packs. The Hershey's Co. has been highly active on TV; however, only Reese's Peanut Butter Cups' TV creative is Halloween-themed. Hershey's Kisses TV and magazine ads are not season-specific in promoting them as "delightfully delicious." The company did develop an extensive Hershey's Halloween-themed web site -- trickortreats.com.


5 stars Outstanding/innovative
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster


M&M's 3 1/2 stars
Hershey's Kisses 4 stars

For both brands, TV was a primary driver of its media plan. Year-to-date, M&M's has placed about $26 million, or 54%, of its media budget in TV. M&M's looked to prioritize efficiency -- notably placing the lions share of its TV schedule in cable and syndication, with the smaller spend on network. M&M's placed a heavy drama, comedy and film program mix on cable networks, including Lifetime, TNT and TBS, with a steady staple of programming on the TV Guide channel. Its syndication deal was principally placed with Paramount Domestic Television, which included shows such as "Frasier," "Entertainment Tonight" and "Judge Judy." Its network buy was split two-thirds to ABC and a third on CBS.

'Off to Work We Go'
'Off to Work We Go'
Hershey's Kisses ran its generic brand "Off to Work We Go" spot displaying the assembly-line demonstration to Disney's "Snow White" anthem. Despite its smaller budget, Hershey nearly matched M&M's in share of voice on TV by booking $22.4 million, 81% of its media budget. Hershey's went with a higher quality of program mix -- placing half of its buy in network prime time. It placed a high proportion of its spend on morning shows such as "Good Morning America" (ABC), "The Early Show" (CBS) and "The Today Show" (NBC). Its key cable networks were Nick at Nite, TNT, TBS and the Food Network.


M&M's 4 1/2 stars
Hershey's Kisses 3 1/2 stars

The main M&M's website features recipes, games and current promotions. My favorite feature is the opportunity to create your own M&M character, where you can choose from a menu of features and accessories. This is a really nice way to personalize the experience and encourage brand ownership. A good selection of branded games are available, including "50 Dark Movies" and "Shmuffleboard." Consumers can find links to print their own custom M&M's. Recipes link through to BrightIdeas.com, which is Mars' sponsored online recipe book where consumers are encouraged to upload their own ideas and recipes.

Mars has set up a Million Dollar Mansion promotional site, which includes rooms dedicated to online games, each themed with a different Mars Brand. Upon logging in, a user is prompted to enter a UPC code to see if they are instant winners of the $1,000,000 up for grabs. Throughout the mansion, M&M's candy characters are the prevailing decorations. The M&M's rooms feature a memory game with a dancing ghost as well as a Racing Carriage house, which links up to the M&M's racing web site.

The Hershey's Kisses main website features a Kisses factory. On the site, consumers can find links to different products, recipes and downloads, including wallpapers for computers and cellphones, screen savers and e-cards, and a link to Hershey's "Night at the Museum" promotion.

Hershey's has set up a website dedicated to Halloween, TrickorTreats.com. It includes crafts and activities, from costume ideas to pumpkin-carving stencils to coloring-book pages. There are also recipes, decorating ideas, party-planning tips, resources for classrooms and downloadable extras such as screensavers, MySpace layouts, wallpapers and clip art.

Social Media

M&M's 4 stars
Hershey's Kisses 1 star

The M&M's Facebook page has 295,600 fans and provides them with informational and promotional updates every three to four days. It also includes Facebook applications allowing fans to vote for the best M&M's Halloween costumes and links to the Million Dollar Mansion.

M&M's maintains three Twitter accounts. The main one is run by Ms. Green. On Ms. Green's Twitter feed, consumers can find updates on M&M's promotions and interact with M&M's. The other M&M's Twitter accounts deal with the racing sponsorship of Kyle "Rowdy" Busch. RidingWithRowdy provides in-race updates, while MMSRacing provides updates to Kyle and M&M's promotions outside of racing.

Hershey's Kisses is a fair bit behind M&M's in the social-media realm. Its Facebook page isn't as richly supported or regularly maintained. The company does have a solid community fan base that seems willing to integrate with the brand and any content. I felt a need for Hershey's to play catch-up in this channel.


M&M's 3 1/2 stars
Hershey's Kisses 3 stars

M&M's has spent nearly 38% of its budget in magazines supporting its various promotions around Nascar, NFL and the Kiss tour as well as variants such as milk chocolate, dark chocolate and Strawberried Peanut Butter. It was active in high-reaching popular titles such as People, In Style, TV Guide, Star and ESPN The Magazine.

Hershey's ran in publications with strong female audiences including People, Us Weekly, Better Homes & Garden, Family Circle, More, Parents, Health and Elle.

Cross Promotions/Sponsorships

M&M's 4 1/2 stars
Hershey's Kisses 3 stars

M&M's supported a cross-brand promotion with "Transformers: Revenge of the Falls," released in May. Its tie-in with the brand was one of the most inclusive and integrated I've seen for a long time. It included a nice play on M&M's brand characters Red and Yellow with their "Transformer" namesakes. It extensively used the film's director Michael Bay in the production of the commercial and featured it within the "Inner M" print campaign. It also undertook a digital scavenger adventure online. Finally, it re-painted Kyle Busch's Nascar Sprint Cup Series No.18 Toyota with a special "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" design used for one of his races timed around the release of the film. Specially themed "Transformers" packaging completed the integration at the point of purchase.

The level of integration with the brand and across media was also expertly executed with M&M's sponsorship of in Nascar. The M&M's-themed promotion of "Most Colorful Fan," located on Nascar.com, allowed users to upload race-related photos, and viewers can vote each week for the most colorful fan. Behind-the-scenes content of Busch and crew chief Steve Addington was distributed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels.

Hershey's Kisses created a competition around the "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." A national TV commercial with specific shots featuring the film's characters was set in the museum. It launched an on-pack promotion that gave a chance to win a special VIP sleepover at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and an online promotion let visitors explore the museum online and enter sweeps to win cash prizes. The idea was nice, but the site to me was a bit clunky.

I don't know whether Hershey's is kicking itself at being scooped by M&M's with the Kiss Concert tour promotion or if it just passed on it. Either way it seemed a missed opportunity.


M&M's 4 1/2 stars
Hershey's Kisses 3 1/2 stars

M&M's would seem to have the deck stacked in its favor from the outset, with bigger budgets supporting its larger base of business. However, it's how it executed across the board in each of the individual channels, and particularly how the programs were integrated, that impressed. Notably, its substantial online programs are a competitive advantage in this category. The way in which it leveraged its sponsorship promotions was also very strong.

Hershey's Kisses, by comparison, delivered a strong TV strategy that we know has worked. Sales and share for the brand are up for the year, largely attributable to the increased advertising support, so kudos for increasing its investment in the down economy and reaping the rewards. I would have thought in this category, however, where there is such a broad consumer affinity with brands, Hershey's would have engaged in more active conversation in social media. Its limited presence gave way for M&M's to take home the treat for best media strategy this year.

Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia US -- a Publicis Groupe company, headquartered in New York. He is a regular contributor for Advertising Age on Brand Media Strategy.
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