Can your brand cross the line?

Mm1 M&Ms have been around since 1941, when they quickly became a favorite of the soldiers in World War II.  In 1954, peanut M&Ms came to be and they went crazy in 1976 by adding an orange M&M to the mix.

In the subsequent 30+ years, we've all watched the evolution of the M&M.  Seasonal colored packages (green and red for Christmas etc.), almond M&M's, etc.

But the basic M&M tenet — inexpensive, candy coated chocolates that won't melt in your hand has pretty much stayed the course.

Until recently. 

M&M's as you probably know, launched M&M Premiums.  At $4 or more a package, these are being played up as something very special…not an ordinary candy at all.  Eva Longoria helped launch the new candies in New York City and the packaging and marketing all say — high end.

They also launched a media campaign to push the new offering.

(RSS feed and e-mail subscribers click here or on the headline to see the video)  But I've noticed that they keep getting less and less shelf space.  And no one is talking about them.  And I can't seem to find any sales figures, other than PR "we're pleased with the sales to date" sort of thing.

So here's what I am wondering.  Did M&M's step over the line?  Can they be both the inexpensive candy we have grown up with AND a premium candy?

We talk about how the brand lives in your consumers' head and heart.  They own the brand.  We can tell them who we are ut they get to decide if that's really the case.

Did M&M's try to stretch their brand beyond our comfort level?  What do you think?

Update:  See what Tobias Singer had to say about this brand extension.

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21 comments on “Can your brand cross the line?

  1. Jessica Carter says:

    Hi Drew,
    I receive your posts via an RSS feed, which didn’t have the video. After I read the post, my initial thought was, “I didn’t even know they were doing this.” But when I came over to your blog and saw the first image of the video, I instantly recognized the commercial and recalled all the other ones. And what’s funny – I love them. I love them because of the characters, which is what stuck with me. I obviously didn’t remember the specific product, just M&Ms.

    So to answer your question, I don’t know that they stretched past our comfort level. I think the problem is they didn’t stretch far enough. We see the commercial, complete with the funny characters that have represented the brand for years, and we think “M&M.” But we don’t recognize or remember “Premium.” Perhaps a separate campaign, sans the characters, is the answer?

  2. Kamy Herbst says:

    Hi Drew,
    You kind of hit a “sweet” spot with me on this one. (Former Hershey Employee)
    I think M&M/Mar can cross the line into a “Premium” candy line, however I don’t think they should mess with a good-solid brand like M&M.
    This “premium candy” should be something totally new, different and interesting to get people to try it. To me it seems like a new flavor maybe that cost more. Kind of like peanut, almond, peanut butter etc.
    Candy companies do this regularly… Think “Limited Edition” or “Holiday Pack”
    What about a new name all together not just another version of the same ole?

  3. Chris Wilson says:

    Beyond the obvious economic struggles that any brand would have right now launching a “Premium” product, I think is a simple case of M&M stretching beyond what their brand can handle.

    M&M has always been a casual snack candy. My aunt was possibly the biggest M&M fan in the world. She had bowls of M&M’s out at her house that she would eat casually throughout the day. She would grab a handful on her way out the door to work, or later that night before she hit the couch to watch the evening news. M&M’s would often be her candy of choice for the movies. She loved them all, plain, peanut, peanut butter, crispy…

    But when my aunt wanted to really indulge in a dessert, she would pass over the M&M’s for something a little richer like a gourmet double chocolate cheesecake.

    The point is, M&M’s have always been a fun, casual, family, snack candy. When you go to the M&M store in New York you don’t find luxurious marble flooring and expensive modern decor. It’s bright, fun and easy going, just like the M&M’s brand always has been.

    M&M’s missed the mark with this one.

  4. Chris Wilson says:

    To Kamy’s point, launching a whole new line of “Premium” candy would have made more sense.

  5. Emily Wenstrom says:

    Does anyone know if their sales were sinking before they started this campaign? If the candies are good, and it sounds like they are, I don’t see adding more varieties as something that would hurt the original M&M sales. Would the new line have been able to make more in sales if it weren’t tied to M&M? I’m trying to think of another, totally-new chocolate candy that has become big without a major association already tied to it that has come out somewhat reasonably, and I can’t. None that have come to M&M-level success, at least. Who’s to say that branching out is not a reaction to lower sales rather than a cause? Everyone’s hurting and trying to be more creative to boost sales these days… and that’s assuming they are in fact hurting, which is speculation at this point.
    Seems to me that the association of this new product to something yummy and familiar, with a campaign that is already familiar, is more effective than starting from scratch.

  6. Don Godwin says:

    When you are on top of the heap make minor changes ,color,or M&ms for Adults, Kids, Bankers, Truckdrivers, Plumbers, Ad people, REALTORS etc. They should have started over with a new product (funded by the “old”). Think of all the other foods or soft drinks that have tried it.

  7. I also think the premium M&Ms streched the brand too far. M&Ms stand for FUN, FUN and FUN (just look at their website!). They are no premium brand and they never will be. I wrote about that last August: http://www.brandextensionblog.com/2008/08/life-is-like-a.html

    @Emily: I don’t think adding more varieties is the problem. The problem is that the premiums don’t fit to the brand identity. When people think “premium chocolates” they don’t think “M&Ms”. They do, when they think “fun candy”.

  8. Jessica,

    Interesting….so you’re saying that one of the core elements of the M&M brand — the characters got in the way of you actually learning about the product?

    I wonder if they would have put them in a formal setting or formal clothes — would that have clued you in that there was something different? Or is Tobias right — is it just wrong for the brand?

    Drew

  9. Kamy,

    So you agree with Tobias — the company can enter the premium chocolate market — just not under the M&M brand umbrella.

    I wondered if they’d do better if they were only available at Christmas time or some other limited engagement — like the Cadbury eggs?

    Drew

  10. Chris,

    All good points. Even the personification of the M&M’s into the characters are whimsical and playful. A perfect fit for the casual candy but not the fancy version.

    Did your aunt have all kinds of M&M merchandise around the house too? The brand has really extended beyond the candy to just pure fun. Again…not a great fit with the premium product.

    Drew

  11. Emily,

    I haven’t seen anything that suggests sales are going well. My own observation is that the product is getting less and less shelf space. Which suggests to me that the product is not selling well.

    You make a good point — launching off the M&M brand would certainly be easier than introducing a whole new brand. But….that’s a short term gain. If the product and the brand are a mis-match, then the damage will outweigh the initial boost.

    Time will tell!

    Drew

  12. Don,

    You make a valid point. You bust a hump to establish a solid brand — and then you deviate from it.

    Sort of defeats all the original work.

    Now, I don’t think M&Ms have done big damage to their core brand with this new product. But, I also think it’s tough for us to shell out $4 for some M&Ms. But as you suggest — had they launched a new brand, we would have known from the beginning what we were getting into.

    Drew

  13. Tobias,

    Excellent post and a nice companion to this one. I’ve added it into the text of the post as well.

    So, if you had been advising M&M as they went to launch this product — what would you have suggested?

    Drew

  14. Ed Moriarty says:

    I have to agree with Jessica on the issue of the beloved characters. At a time of seemingly inconsistent deviation from the current brand, the characters do nothing to create new impressions of the brand extension. They simply end up reminding us of all the things M&Ms are, were and forever will be. In fact, I would steer clear of the timeless Rosser Reeves slogan and the little M&M people altogether.

    I have no problem with M&Ms introducing a premium line, but you didn’t see Ronald McDonald running around hopped up on caffeine when the super chain introduced its line of Premium Roast coffee. If you’re going for the snobby “premium” crowd, do some snobby “premium” commercials.

    I’m seeing a Franzia/M&M/Caviar joint promotion that could launch at the Oscars. I simply must stop giving these ideas away.

  15. Drew,

    First of all, thanks for including my post!

    If I had been advising M&Ms, I would have suggested to turn them into a fun product instead of a premium one. The marble design is kinda fun. They could have turned it into a “M&Ms special edition”. And instead of marketing all 5 flavors at once, maybe they should have alternated, marketing one different flavor each month as a limited edition. That way they could have reached a higher price (than regular M&Ms) without going premium.

    Another option would be to market the product under a different brand. I’m not sure launching a new brand would pay off, though. And Mars don’t really have any premium candy brands in their portfolio they could use, do they?

    Tobias

  16. Ed,

    The McDonald’s comparison is a great point. I think Ronald McDonald stands only for part of McDonald’s identity: That it’s a fun place for children. But McDonald’s is also about convenience. It’s the most convenient place in the world to grab some food. That’s the link for including the nice coffee line.

    M&Ms fail to link the premium product to their identity (if that’s even possible). That’s where I see the difference to McDonald’s.

    Tobias

  17. Ed,

    First…we applaud your generosity with your genius. Truly inspiring.

    To your point — match the promotion to the product. Snobby=snobby. Do you think that would have been enough? Or is the name M&Ms itself “tainted” as an inexpensive candy?

    Drew

  18. Tobias,

    The limited edition idea sure has worked for Cadbury eggs, hasn’t it? Premium priced product that people have to wait all year to get.

    You’re right, they could have done that with the premium product and tied each flavor to a different holiday.

    I think, in the long run, that might have made more sense than the new brand all together. But…as Ed suggested in the comments, perhaps leaving the characters at home would be wise.

    Drew

  19. Kamy Herbst says:

    Hello!
    I’m just getting caught up…
    I think there is a lot of agreement here on M&M equals fun & affordable. Did you know the two big players in US Candy making stayed a float during the depression & WWII due in part to this? They built their brands on this concept, chocolate is for everyone and shouldn’t be just a luxury. (I have lots of fun facts to support)
    With that, I still think M&M has the ability to carry a premium line of chocolate. It needs to be totally new and not dominantly carry the M&M logo.
    Prime example… did you know that Cadbury is owned and distributed by Hershey? 😉

  20. Kamy Herbst says:

    PS. from a pure “consumer” point of view, I too ignored the message that was being sent and just watched the green, girly M&M b/c I enjoy her character. I just assumed it was once again another fun commercial for M&M period.

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