M&Ms' Super Bowl 2023 Publicity Stunt Was Worse Than Bad, It Was Boring

We feel for M&Ms, we really do. The brand has had a weird year. In early 2022 the candy company revamped its famous "spokescandies" to be more inclusive and reflective of society-at-large. This predictably triggered human outrage fountain Tucker Carlson, who somehow found the ostensibly female brown M&M's switch from spiked stilettos to block heels "deeply unappealing and totally androgynous." He added that he "wouldn't want to have a drink with any one of them," which begs the question: was that the goal?

Regardless of the fact that Carlson leaves nary a stone unturned to find a nonissue upon which to bloviate, the internet did what it does and debated the M&Ms' new look, claims of "woke culture" run amok, and the Fox News host's response ad nauseam. Naturally, things seemed to calm down as people moved on to the next scandal de jour. But M&Ms parent company Mars reignited the controversy a year later when, on January 23, it announced the brand meant no harm and that the spokescandies were to be paused and replaced by "beloved Maya Rudolph."

Again social media had a field day bemoaning the fact that the candy giant had bent to the will of Carlson and his ilk. That was quickly silenced though, by a baffling litany of Super Bowl ads that saw Rudolph announce her likeness on the candy, a name change to "Ma&Yas," and the addition of clams, all of which left many viewers disinterested at best.

Meh & Meh

The punchline to the marketing campaign-cum-stunt is that the spokescandies were never actually leaving the brand. In a post-Super Bowl spot, the various M&Ms announced their "return" in a bland press conference spoof that seemed all too predictable given the ludicrous heightening Rudolph's commercials had done. Clam-stuffed candies embossed with the comedian's face were clearly never to be.

The problem was unless you were keeping track of the controversy surrounding M&Ms and the narrative Mars was weaving, and somehow still cared, the commercials seemed wan at best and confusingly unfunny at worst. It had Maya Rudolph — arguably one of the best comedians in the industry — who is adept at high-status characters prime for being deflated, but the ad didn't make use of her. Of course she was funny, but the spots went for cheap, easy jokes and hinged more on her celebrity status than her ability to lampoon those thinking highly of themselves. 

Also missing was any mention of the impetus behind this all: the laughable indignation of Carlson and those who found themselves equally outraged by the slight mascot redesign. While it's understandable the ad didn't call him out by name, it was a pulled punch to not bake in a slight dig at those who felt wronged by a perceived lack of sex appeal coming from anthropomorphic candies and their concern over cartoon shoes. Of the whole saga, this take was easily the funniest element, so it would seem natural to embrace the absurdity of it. But brands can be skittish when it comes to even a whiff of controversy and M&Ms chose to create an ad that was confusing and kind of boring instead of directly addressing the reason it was made in the first place.

Back to normal?

It's a shame that Mars and M&Ms are quickly parting ways with Rudolph. She is a comedic gem who any brand would be lucky to have hawking their wares. The spokescandies on the other hand are mildly amusing characters that most people likely don't pay much heed to. We're not saying that they need to permanently be shelved, but the brand could have given Rudolph some time to shine and even have had her interact with the M&Ms in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, exploring what comedy there is to be mined. It's possible that is still to come, but if it is there was no indication that we should be watching for future ad spots, leaving us to believe the partnership was a one-off.

With Rudolph's brief tenure over, Mars trotted the M&Ms back out in the press conference spot that showcased their various personalities — red: cocky; orange: anxious — and was emblazoned with the catchphrase "for all funkind." So, it looks like we're right back where we started. The costume changes seem to remain, with "Ms. Brown" in her block heels and the green M&M in her new sneakers, but is Mars to continue the expanded and diverse backstories that were promised with the 2022 revamp? Only time will tell, but, outside of the internet rage machine, we're not sure anyone really cares.

We wish M&Ms good luck on its strange journey. The candy remains an iconic snack in its many permutations, so the brand has that going for it. Perhaps with this hiccup in the rearview mirror M&Ms will redouble its efforts to make the most of the comedic potential that exists in its spokescandies and beyond. After this bland attempt to capitalize on its controversy, we're not holding our breath.