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M&M’s candy mascots get a makeover, with less sex appeal and more Gen-Z anxiety

M&M’s color-coded mascots are getting a makeover. (M&M's)

M&M’s are getting a makeover. The chocolate candies are not changing, but the company is shifting its marketing to position the 81-year-old brand as “more inclusive,” a move that includes overhauling its roster of mascots to better reflect “today’s society,” the brand said in an announcement on Thursday.

“As the world changes, so do we,” said the brand, which is one of several under the Mars Inc. umbrella.

Each of the anthropomorphized candies has been assigned a fresh personality and look that seems like it would be right at home in the cast description for a new CW drama.

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The two female characters — formerly known as Ms. Green and Ms. Brown, but now dropping the title to de-emphasize gender — will team up as a “force supporting women, together throwing shine and not shade,” according to the announcement. They’re trading in their footwear, too: Green (who once modeled for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue) is swapping her high-heeled, go-go-style boots and strappy heels for “cool, laid-back sneakers,” and Brown (the newest addition to the cast, who has been portrayed as a brainy, powerful CEO type) is getting lower pumps because it’s 2022 and most of us aren’t tottering around the C-suite in stilettos. Green now will be more about confidence than sex appeal, M&M’s says.

Two of the mascots will embody the modern age’s dueling emotions. Yellow, per the brand, will be the optimist. In previous ad campaigns, Yellow appeared as the sort of dope of the group, often slow to catch on to the punchline of nearly every TV ad — that the humans in the commercials actually want to eat them. The 2022 version “has wisdom in his own right and forces us to see the world as it should be,” M&M’s says.

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Orange, though, is the avatar of our collective anxieties, and his makeover produced one of the saddest lines to come out of a marketing department seeking to connect with its audience: “Orange is one of the most relatable characters with Gen-Z, which is also the most anxious generation.”

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Red, who formerly seemed to be the group’s alpha candy, is becoming more of a team player, apparently. “Red will share the limelight with the additional cast, allowing each character to shine as their own star,” the brand says.

M&M’s also says it plans to change the overall vibe of its commercials, which typically relied on broad, physical humor that sometimes leaned on sexist tropes, like one in which Red and Yellow were transported to a deserted island, along with a pack of scantily clad cheerleaders and a sports car, apparently as the last three wishes of a castaway; or another in which Ms. Green performed a striptease. The brand promised “an updated tone of voice that is more inclusive, welcoming, and unifying, while remaining rooted in our signature jester wit and humor.”

The M&M’s shift is more subtle than those of some other legacy brands that have changed in recent years. Pancake syrup and mix brand Aunt Jemima last year rebranded as Pearl Milling Company after announcing that it was reckoning with the racist history of its mascot. Uncle Ben’s rice is now just Ben’s, a change prompted by a recognition of the Jim Crow-era stereotypes carried by the use of the term “uncle” to describe a Black man.

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