Ad Report Card: M&M’s Lust for Green

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the subject of opportunistic marketing, and I’ll follow up on that in the days ahead. But today, since TV advertising in general seems to have returned to its regular schedule, I’m going to return to the Ad Report Card’s regular schedule, too.

A few weeks back, several people sent me e-mail asking about a campaign for M&M’s that plays on a famous legend surrounding the green ones—their aphrodisiac qualities. The ads all feature a roughly 3-foot-tall M&M woman. I’m not sure how to judge these things, but apparently she’s attractive. She’s green. These spots were in heavy rotation for months prior to Sept. 11, and the campaign seems to be ongoing, but if you’ve missed them you can take a look via the official M&M’s site. (It takes several clicks to get to the ads: First click the “What is it about the green ones?” box, which causes a new window to open. There’s Flash intro, which you can skip, and then a page featuring a big illustration of Green, the M&M femme fatale. Click on “Movie Clips” and you can view all three ads, using the media player of your choice.)

The ads: There are three. In one, a guy meets his date in a restaurant, and she arrives wearing the outfit he specified: White boots, white gloves, and a short, M&M-green dress. “You look great, he says. She wonders if the outfit isn’t a little odd, gloves with boots, etc. But he’s not listening. He’s watching the entrance of the M&M girl. The date storms out, passing Ms. M, who says, “Nice outfit.” “Shut up,” says the spurned date.

A second spot is set on a movie lot. Some flunky has been dispatched to tell the star that “they’re ready for her close-up.” He barrels into her trailer to find Ms. M, but she’s all chocolate—her green candy shell is draped over a chair. She squeals, and then there’s a very long, awkward pause. “I’m naked,” she finally snaps. The flunky scurries out, muttering, “I gotta go buy a bag of M&M’s.”

The third spot has the feel of an anti-drug message or after-school special, as concerned parents discover a poster of Ms. M in their son’s room. And a drawer full of green M&M’s. “I’m just not ready for this,” says Mom. All the spots end with the tag line, “What is it about the green ones?”

Well, what is it? I have no idea where the myth of aphrodisiac M&M’s comes from (although I’m sure some explanations will appear in the Fray, so you might check there). I’m also not sure I completely understand what the M&M marketers are trying to do with this campaign. It’s obviously tongue in cheek, but what’s the point? Are we laughing at the idea of sexy M&M’s? Winking at it? Or, perhaps, are we just supposed to be vaguely creeped out by it? I would guess that last possibility is not the intended one, but it’s the one that comes up most often in the e-mail I’ve gotten about the campaign, and it comes closest to my own reaction.

I suppose this would be a good departure point for a deconstruction of the meaning of sexualized candy, how that relates to American ideas of consumption, and so on. Unfortunately, to this column’s ongoing detriment, I didn’t go to Brown. The best I can offer is the observation that the weird spectacle of men and boys literally lusting after candy makes M&M’s seem not so much irresistible to all, but rather the vaguely shameful fetish of a few. Which, now that I think about it, is sort of a funny idea. Perhaps we can look forward to an installment featuring Dennis Hopper holed up in a squalid trailer with an inflatable Ms. M doll. “Melts in your mouth,” he could mutter, “not in your hands.” Viewers could draw their own conclusions.