Fear, Death and Chocolate: Over-thinking the M&M

In the realm of food advertising, I’ve always taken issue with making the product a sentient being. It adds a layer of unnecessary creepiness, as if the foods are in some sort of cult, happily sacrificing themselves to the mythical humans, assuming that it impacts a greater cause. But what if the brand makes the product more self aware? Can you sell the product as easily if the food has a sense of self-preservation and fear of death? More importantly, why would you give your product that trait? Let’s ask the only brand fool-hardy enough to do it recently, M&Ms. 

The M&M universe has expanded greatly since its launch in 1941. In the 50s, they officially launched peanut M&Ms and the characters. In the 70s they added orange. In the 90s, blue, and they (almost) always had brown, red, yellow and green.

M&Ms Through the years, source: M&Ms website

And for a long time, they had some creepy looking characters.

The spokescandies added in 1995 are the ones we know and love tolerate. You’ve got Red, the George Costanza of candy. He’s the “original.” You’ve got Yellow: sometimes simply naive and other times just plain dumb, and, according to the M&Ms website, likes “pretty ladies and fluffy things.” In the early days of these M&Ms characters, it was mainly Red and Yellow getting into wacky hi-jinks. I always remember the Christmas commercial where they meet Santa as a classic example of what Red and Yellow are all about (It also happens to be my all-time favorite M&Ms commercial).

The other characters are Blue (the cool guy); Green and the recently added Ms. Brown (the girl and the “woman” respectively, who could literally have their own blog entry about representations of gender in food advertising, but I’ll leave that for another time … spoiler: I think Green is sexist, and Ms. Brown was a failed attempt to remedy that); and then there’s Crispy/Orange.

I say Crispy/Orange because he debuted as the always-on-edge spokescandy for Crispy M&Ms, but when they stopped making those (may they return to the shelves one day in all their crunchy glory), he became Orange, the extremely paranoid mascot for pretzel M&Ms.

My inspiration for this post was a visit to M&Ms World in Times Square, where my boyfriend and I realized that, even though Orange is one of the main characters, he doesn’t have much merchandise. Could it be because his paranoia is a little too weird and might not work for most branded merch? After all, his slogan on the website is “I’m a dead man.” (I’m serious. That’s his official character quote. Who wouldn’t want that on a t-shirt?)

At the time, I thought that this meant that Orange was the only character that feared being eaten; I could only remember the others confidently interacting with humans in commercials.  After watching a lot of more of them, I realized this may not be the case. I’ve gathered the commercials that I think best exemplify how the M&Ms universe works:

1) Never trust Patrick Warburton.


Okay, so the real “rule” revealed by this commercial  is that, if there are witnesses, the M&Ms cannot be eaten, but I think that my point still stands. Now, if there aren’t any witnesses, how do the spokescandies avoid human consumption?

2) If M&Ms talk, you can’t eat them.


As this hypnotist was forced to realize, if the M&Ms talk, they cannot not be consumed. Talking is usually sign of sentience, and if they are self-aware, it means that they are higher beings, and probably see themselves as equal to humans, chocolate-filled or not.

3) Crispy/Orange is the tastiest of the M&Ms.


If they’re all aware of the rules of spokescandy existence, why is Orange still so afraid? Maybe because of his sheer deliciousness. Unlike the other M&Ms, he faces extinction by his own kind, which brings me to the most mind-blowing point of all …

4) Talking M&Ms are actually vampires.


I know what the brand was  going for when they made this commercial: Red, Yellow and Blue were hanging out and got WASTED on milk chocolate, which is supposed to represent beer. However, that doesn’t work, because M&Ms are made of milk chocolate. So, really, Red, Yellow and Blue  just spent a night binge eating the blood of their brethren. Watch the commercial again. It’s a lot creepier now, right? The image of a static television smeared with milk chocolate hand prints? Gives me the chills.

So, now it all makes sense (I use the term “sense” loosely here).  The talking M&Ms have taken on the eating habits of the humans, and have become chocolate-vampires. They feed on their own (edit: here’s another commercial to prove it), and  they use the other M&Ms as bargaining chips to avoid being eaten by the humans. Orange is right to be afraid … the world he lives in is terrifying … terrifyingly delicious. Man, I could go for some chocolate  right now. It’s like I just watched a lot of branded messaging and it had an effect on me, or something.

Before I part, I want to leave you with a few extra clips for your viewing pleasure. Before the brand stopped advertising to kids, the M&M characters had a very clear target. Check out these M&Ms ads through the ages. It’s a fun ride through how they used to grab a child’s attention.

1950s: Melts in your mouth, not your hand (This ad is, like, sooooo Mad Men)
Early 1990s: M&M Camp (The candies went through cult-like processing under the guise of “sleep-away camp.”)
Late 90s/Early 00s: M&M minis (I remember seeing this commercial at least 15 times every Saturday morning, and I always wanted to go buy the minis).

Oh, and just so you don’t forget how creepy the commercials can be sometimes, let’s leave you on a disarming note. I call this one “Utopia.”  You watch that while I go find some peanut M&Ms.

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One Comment on “Fear, Death and Chocolate: Over-thinking the M&M”

  1. Debbie says:

    Love this and love peanut m&m’s


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