History has it that wars have always had devastating effects on both sides of the war-front. But getting a sweet, delectable product out of a war is a once in a lifetime occurrence. That happened in this era, when Forrest Mars, Sr. observed Spanish soldiers relishing on shots of chocolates enclosed in a thick sugary coating, during the Civil War (1936-39). The encasing was of special focus here because it prevented the chocolates from getting melted. And that gave birth to M&Ms candy coated chocolates. Even though the chocolate was introduced in 1941, during the gory period of World War II, it became a cash cow for Mars because it found a plethora of consumers in the U.S. Army itself. Soldiers preferred to take it along because thanks to the candy coating, the chocolates won't melt and they could keep them for a longer time before savouring them.
While M&Ms started getting popular with the US Army-men, Hershey remained the largest chocolate company in America. To outdo Hershey, M&Ms resorted to extensive advertising through billboards, radio spots, print adverts and consequently, their sales soared up to $ 3 Million by 1949.
Soon, Mars Inc hired Ted Bates & Co., (now Bates 141), an advertising firm based out of Chicago, to market the brand and hence, in 1954, came a sprightly campaign, “Melts in your Mouth, not in your Hands”. Inevitably, the campaign was an instant success because apart from the luscious taste, the chocolates offered something unique and that was made the core of the campaign.
The campaign also introduced cartoon characters representing M&Ms, namely Mr. Plain & Mr. Peanut in the same year. It might be interesting to note that these two adorable and charming characters were recently voted as America's favourite advertising icons outstripping legendary icons like Pillsbury's Doughboy and Kellogg's Tony the Tiger!
A perfect combination of an intelligent campaign coupled with two irresistibly sweet characters resulted in huge profits that surpassed Hershey's numbers within two decades. While BBDO is the current ad agency hired by M&Ms, it was Ted Bates & Co. that secured Mars Sr. a 39th rank in Advertising Age's list of Top 100 Advertising Campaigns.
Going back to the basics, it is commendable how a product that owes its genesis to a merciless war, can become such a celebrated legend that can lead people to forget the blood-shed that brought sorrow and remember the cocoa-shed that brought them 'chocolates', err, candy coated chocolates.