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M&M/Mars is taking a hard line with Starburst.

The candy marketer is positioning Starburst as its next mega-brand with a fifth line extension, Starburst Hard Candy. The launch is backed by a $20 million marketing program, M&M/Mars' largest ever for a non-chocolate candy.

"Starburst is a power brand that 'umbrellas' a host of categories," said John Helferich, VP-research and development at Mars, which estimates Starburst's 1999 sales will be $250 million.

He said the strategy for Starburst, first introduced in 1963 as a fruit chew, is to become a brand "that is the best at meeting refreshment" in the non-chocolate -- or what Mars calls the sugar -- category.

Already, Starburst is the third-largest brand for the company, following M&M's and Snickers. It's also the leader in the $3.1 billion sugar category, according to Mars, ahead of Nabisco's Lifesavers brand.


Thom Sharki, Mars' national sales director, said the segment is growing faster than chocolate, and that Starburst is well positioned because of a strong following among teens, who are growing at double the rate of the general population.

The marketing program is aimed squarely at that demographic, including a $12 million national TV and print ad barrage starting in late June, from Grey Advertising, New York. The effort includes Internet ads.

A total of 100 million free samples will be given out -- another record number for Mars. The sampling will be conducted on college campuses and at high schools, movie-theater exits and "outside places where teens love to shop," said Franchise Manager Cheryl Thomas.

Starburst Hard Candy also will be a sponsor of the X Games.

Three TV spots backing the introduction were directed by Doug Liman, director of "Swingers" and the popular teen movie "Go." The commercials bring back Starburst's convenience-store clerk.

The new candies are individually wrapped and sold in resealable bags; they come

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