M&Ms have had an ‘inclusivity’ makeover. Excuse me while I overreact

Fox News host Tucker Carlson led the way in sneering at Green’s new androgynous look

Mars has given a marketing makeover to its six M&Ms characters. Photograph: AP/David Zalubowski

Mars has given a marketing makeover to its six M&Ms characters. Photograph: AP/David Zalubowski

 

The relaunch of the M&M mascots has been an unqualified success. There is an article about it in Rolling Stone. One in Forbes magazine. There is now an article about it in The Irish Times. Most conspicuously, in the US, Tucker Carlson, blazer-draped Fox News foghorn, has been slamming the alterations with his usual furrowed concern. “M&Ms will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous,” Carlson worried. “Until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them. That’s the goal.”

Nice job, TC. This is how semi-accidental media synergy works these days. EnormoCorp announces a supposedly inclusive recalibration of its marketing. Right-wing media wets collective knickers. Left-wing media ridicules right-wing media. Everyone ends up mentioning the product being marketed.

Carlson almost certainly had some part of his tongue in his cheek, but the word still got out there. 

Here is what happened. Mars announced it would be revamping the animated versions of the confectionery as part of a “global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong and society is inclusive”. Stop making the universal hand gesture for onanist. It will only encourage Carlson and his kind.

You will have seen the horrible anthropomorphic creatures in television advertisements. The most notorious saw a human man discovering his human wife in bed with a red M&M. “You were going to eat him without me,” the man says. Sorry? Later in this perverted amalgam of Luis Buñuel and Ray Cooney, a yellow M&M emerges from an adjacent wardrobe. So there is some voyeuristic thing going on? If I understand Carlson correctly, at this stage he was still willing to “have a drink” with these guys. Rather him than me.

Anyway, the most controversial change involved the green M&M. Previously a fan of white go-go boots, the new, less flirtatious incarnation wears a pair of sensible sneakers. “I think we all win when we see more women in leading roles, so I’m happy to take on the part of supportive friend when they succeed,” Green said on the brand’s promotional site. Honestly, this stuff plays straight into the Anti-Woke Crusaders’ hands. Maybe that is the idea.

In an ideal Ireland, this story would require even more explanation. Up to a few decades ago, we were perfectly content with the less chalky, more imaginatively packaged Smarties. Dr Wikipedia reports that Frank C Mars, son of the Mars founder, got the idea for M&Ms when he saw soldiers eating some version of Smarties in the Spanish Civil War, but this story is much disputed (what a shame). We can say, however, that – like the unappealing Oreo – the M&M was once as foreign here as the Cadillac and the caribou. Now, the commendable Smartie and its useful cardboard tube are under assault from this more vulgar rival. Will US cultural colonisation never end?

We have not, however, yet embraced product anthropomorphism with the same enthusiasm as our friends across the Atlantic. The Americans have always been willing to make friends with smiling incarnations of the stuff they ram into their faces. Since 1916, Mr Peanut, a monocled snoot with a cane and top hat, has been the official face of Planters peanuts. Dig into his official Twitter account and you will discover more backstory than any sane consumer could want. “Believe it or nut (sic), my full name is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe!” he posted in 2019.

The California Raisins – claymation versions of that popular dried fruit – became such a phenomenon that they ended up a liability to their sponsors. Devised in the mid-1980s, the fictional R&B group came to fame singing a version of I Heard it Through the Grapevine (get it?) on a popular commercial. They released four albums. They were the subject of a mockumentary. But the cost of maintaining the desiccated musicians eventually proved too much for the California Raisin Advisory Board.

None of these characters makes sense. They are essentially inviting the consumer to eat them alive. The creepy M&M creatures make gags of that paradox in their commercials, but the whiff of discomfort remains. One thinks of the Ameglian Major Cow who, in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, sauntered up to diners and invited them to try a bit of her succulent flank.

Some of that does go on here. Think of all those fried chicken places that feature grinning fowl in their logos. I recall a butcher’s shop that advertised its wares with a merry pig dangling sausages and black pudding from a jauntily shouldered walking stick. You saw no horrors so perverse in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Then there is the strange case of Mr Tayto. The representative of the popular crisp brand, a tubby fellow in a coat and hat, has become such a national treasure that he inspired a theme park and published an autobiography. But what is he up to in his day job? It seems he is luring members of his own species towards dark barns to be sliced into strips and deep fried. At least the M&Ms are prepared to sacrifice themselves to the consumers. The psychology behind all this is demented. The campaigns seem designed to fuel guilt and regret. 

It’s decadent. It’s depraved. It’s disgusting. Give me a show on Fox News. There is a living in overreacting to this nonsense.  

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