M&M’s is caving in to bizarre criticism of its candy characters. Or is it?

Over the past year or so, M&M’s has been playing around with its color candy characters.

In all that time, whether it was making the Green M&M “less sexy,” or adding a Purple M&M, or making an all-female character package for International Women’s Day, the brand has become a bizarre lightning rod for commentators like Tucker Carlson to criticize “woke” corporations.

But on Monday, the brand announced that it had never intended its characters to be so controversial, and that it would be replacing them with a new spokesperson: comedian and actor Maya Rudolph.

In perhaps one of the weirdest brand announcements in the history of cartoon-related spokesperson announcements, M&M’s said, it has “decided to take an indefinite pause from the spokescandies. In their place, we are proud to introduce a spokesperson America can agree on: the beloved Maya Rudolph. We are confident Ms. Rudolph will champion the power of fun to create a world where everyone feels they belong.”

Last January, the candy announced it was changing its characters’ footwear: Orange got a pair of shoes with tied laces, Brown got lower heels, and Green went from high heels to sneakers. The latter move sparked an op-ed in The Washington Post demanding Green M&M get its boots back.

Just this month, M&M’s announced its limited edition, all-female packaging, with a portion of profits from sales going to organizations that are “uplifting and empowering women.”

M&M brand leaders, and executives from its parent company, Mars, have previously been bullish on the candy’s approach. Gabrielle Wesley, chief marketing officer for Mars Wrigley North America, said in a press release on the all-female packaging that, “The M&M’S brand is on a mission to use the power of fun to create purposeful connections, as we work to create a world where everyone feels they belong.”

And M&M’s global vice president Jane Hwang has said that the brand had been overwhelmed by the reaction to Green’s footwear change, and, “Now we know for certain that M&M’S is a cultural icon.”

M and M’s is caving in to bizarre criticism of its candy characters. Or is it?

So this new announcement about pausing the spokescandies initially sounds like a major capitulation to right-wing criticism. Or is it?

Super Bowl advertising season has already begun, and M&M’s is a confirmed big game participant. In the brand’s press release about the 2023 Super Bowl, Wesley said, “The latest campaign extends our purposeful work over the last year but is rooted in a new creative territory, and we can’t wait for our fans to see what’s about to unfold.”

M&M’s is either using the character criticism as a jumping-off point to double down on the moves it’s made over the past year—and this odd announcement is a not-so-elaborate ruse—or it is making a 180-degree turn from its “purposeful work” and putting a sweet-tooth ton of pressure on Rudolph to make up for it.

Given all its brand investment in these characters so far—not to mention how much spokescandy merch gets sold at M&M’s stores around the globe—it’s a reasonable bet that this is just an awkward Hail Mary of Super Bowl hype marketing.

Fast Company