Lesson from a Handful of M&M’s

M&M’s should stand for “Marketing Magic”

The Backstory

There’s really not a complicated backstory here… growing up, my family always had quick snacks available to satisfy the munchies.

When thinking about the type of snacks that can meet the requirements of being out all the time, take a really long time to go bad, and can be moderated based on desire… look no further than M&Ms.

Always on counter. Sought after. Grabbed by the handful. It’s amazing and strategic how these little pieces of candy transcend generations and always seem to be in style. A showcase of excellence in marketing.

The Object

Little drops of chocolate covered in a candied shell… it seems so simple. War has a tendency to bring about innovation in surprising ways, and the soldiers fighting in WWII needed fed.

Enter M&M’s. The melt-resistant, ready to eat food was included in soldier’s rations and took off in popularity, and when they came home from war, they wanted their M&M’s!

Just in case we needed yet another reason to thank those who serve in the military.

Thanks to Mars & Murrie and the market demand that was created by veterans, M&M’s ended up being the #1 candy in the United States in 1956 (read the entire History Channel origin story of the M&M brand).

Create a product designed to be shared

The intriguing part of that story is how the product innovation was developed and then distributed to create market demand. The “no melting candy” solution was not exponentially hyped and not distributed to the masses initially, which so many products and company start-ups try to do today from the beginning to their detriment more often than not.

The focus was on the military, exclusively, and M&M’s won the heart of the market. But, initial market penetration was only the beginning. M&M’s, by their own design, are built for easy sharing, and the company capitalized on this by creating packaging and companion products to make sharing even easier.

M&M’s are a “pay-it-forward” product.

It doesn’t take long for the WWII veterans to share their love of the classic to-go candy with their kids… the baby boomers… then they shared M&M’s with the Gen X’ers… then the Millennials… then the Gen Z’ers… and now the Gen Alphas.

I M&M-ified myself and my wife in 2009.

The right campaign at the right time

For each generation, M&M’s hones in on what appeals to the current generation and figures out how to make it personal — to make M&M’s more than just a drop of candy-coated goodness. Look no further than custom-printed M&M’s!

However, business is not always sunshine and roses… M&M’s has its heydays and slumps, but it takes risks and hires the right marketing talent to figure out how to help people integrate M&M’s into their lives and for the market to see themselves in the product.

A quick Google search for “M&M Marketing Campaigns” yields enough business-school marketing lessons for an entire course, as it celebrates over 75 years of staying relevant to its target markets.

The Lesson

In today’s fast-paced culture that doesn’t have time to do much of anything for very long, M&M’s are king — still.

How does a company design its product to be sharable?

We see the sharing phenomenon in text, photo, and video content online all the time. For physical products and service, I think it’s a bit a luck mixed with a dash of smart.

An organization needs to realize the value of what it has, but there is only so much that can be done with certain products. That’s when it boils down to the magic of marketing.

Marketing creates perceived value and ownership by helping customers see themselves with the product or service.

The Take-aways:

  • “Everybody” is not a target market.
  • Develop a niche of loyal customers and a solid product before trying to grow exponentially.
  • Remain relevant to the core market by adapting to what they pay attention to and how they get things done.
  • Become sharable.

That last take-way is tough. I am doing my part in passing down the love of M&M’s to my two daughters in my own way… with peanut butter and co-branding. While peanut butter M&M’s are awesome, getting a spoonful of JIF peanut butter and a handful of regular M&M’s is a win-win combination.

Now the girls get the treat on their own. Sharing. Together.
Passing down brand loyalty.

Written by Shaun Holloway.