M&Ms Meet Big Brother

Michael McBride
Posted: Feb 07, 2007 12:00 PM
M&Ms Meet Big Brother

Does anyone else miss the light brown M&Ms? Me too.

I knew a few years back when the parent company, Masterfoods announced a contest to re-color M&Ms that my little tan friends were in trouble. Their paltry population was remarkably small when compared to the robust quantities of greens and yellows. I knew immediately that a re-design of the overall color scheme was not the objective, but that this marketing campaign was a direct attack on the rare, khaki jewels that gave M&Ms their earthiness. I could sense the trend toward primary colors would edge out the under represented tannies, and that some "new" "hot" color would replace the staid, and understated anchor in a pallet dominated with the brilliance of primaries.

And I was right. The little gems were soon replaced by the over-used primary blue...I yawned, but lamented the loss of the light brown morsels that had graced the packaging for many years.

But Masterfoods, in the business sense, was right. This was Marketing 101…re-define your product, generate a buzz, re-invigorate the market. So the light brown M&Ms gave it up for the team.

In fact an examination of the marketing of M&Ms over the past twenty years or so would make a case study in any business school. Aside from the marketing scheme outlined above, they have added product…almond M&Ms, white chocolate M&Ms, and mint M&Ms. They have developed product for, and marketed with, The Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They have developed seasonal color combinations that have turned this simple candy into a necessary home accessory for any holiday. They have had a car, adorned with M&Ms caricatures, in the Nextel Cup races for years.

This company works for its sales through innovation, product development and marketing.

A perfect storm of successes that simply invite regulatory interference…and so it comes.

The EU’s authority on such matters, DG Sanco, previously sent Masterfoods an inquiry questioning their marketing practices towards those twelve and younger. My initial response is …”duh…its candy.” Followed closely by…”What’s the next target?”

In light of NYC’s ban on trans fats, the all out assault on smoking anywhere on the planet, and the ever increasing intrusions by government into our lives…can the US be far behind in demanding that our twelve-and-younger crowd be shielded from the temptations of chocolate covered candies that melt in your mouth, but not in your hand?

Two main points…first what did DG Sanco fail to target? Only the entire genre of sugar laden breakfast cereals that ONLY target the twelve and younger crowd. They missed every other candy product on the market. They missed chips. They missed ice cream bars. They missed Toostie Roll Pops, Lifesavers, Pez, Milk Duds, Sweet Tarts, and all of the other products that are marketed directly at that age group.

But M&Ms get singled out? How many four year-olds are getting geared up for the Daytona 500 or accessorizing their room with white, pink and red M&Ms for Valentine’s Day? What is striking here is that most of M&Ms’ marketing falls way outside the twelve-year-old range, but they, and their perfectly legal product get targeted for some social engineering experiment by the EU. Nothing attracts attention like success.

And that lands us squarely into the second issue here…the growing trend of unwanted government intrusions into the myriad of personal choices we make each day.

I am the first person to get annoyed with the lamely capable parent who cannot get past the snack aisle in the grocery store without having their 3 year-old go off on a 150 decibel, eardrum shattering tantrum that causes all of us to snicker and comment about the pitiful lack of parenting skills; BUT unless the government is willing to intervene in the home, they should butt out of dictating to businesses on how to sell their legal products.

The issue here is choice. And last I looked we were all still fully endowed with our unalienable right to choose M&Ms for ourselves and for our children, should we desire. Governmental legislation is no substitution for parenting, and it is certainly less capable of parenting than even the most recalcitrant parent that has ever wandered the candy aisle at Safeway. And with an ever increasing number of these governmentally dictated “good/healthy” choices, our rights are being eroded away by a government that thinks it is capable of legislating parents into doing the right thing. Watch the average checkout counter for an hour on a Saturday morning, and that bag of M&Ms will be dwarfed by the caloric content of tubs of ice cream, bags of chips and cookies, cakes, and other candies, to the extent that the singling out M&Ms is ludicrous in the extreme.

The problem is the gross lack of parental skill. And while liberal intentions may be good, I am not willing to give up any more of my rights…and I don’t expect Masterfoods to give up any of theirs…for a vain imposition of liberal societal engineering, via an angular attack on the marketing practices of an innovative company.

Do I exaggerate? Today’s Oregonian offers evidence of local, but surely not isolated, choice interference within the Portland School District and their vending choices. The story is rich in background, financial data, and potential tort action, but nowhere does the district make the case that the removal of sugared drinks has made any quantitative improvements in any health factors of its students. So, we have denied access of legal products to the marketplace…with typical liberal do-gooder intentions, yet we offer no proof of benefit for such a drastic measure. Even the most compelling evidence, if any exists, would have to be weighed against the grievous loss of individual rights and freedoms. We need to stop acquiescing to these small attacks on our freedoms and the unproven benefits they promise to deliver.

Make the product illegal…good luck with that.

Or charge parents of obese children with child abuse…good luck with that.

But leave profitable and innovative companies out of your social engineering schemes. These oblique attacks are low-voltage attacks on our freedoms and run directly counter to the basic premises of our Constitution…those of freedom of speech and expression, individual choice, and the freedom from unwelcome governmental intrusions into our lives.

Leave M&Ms alone…unless you are going to put the light brown ones back in the bag.