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M&M’s ‘spokescandies’ controversy, explained

Welcome to the M&M circus

An image of the M&Ms ‘spokescandies’ after they rebranded. Green M&M for example, is no longer wearing her signature “sexy” outfit because she’s a “feminist” now. Image: Mars Incorporated
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

After a whirlwind of announcements, and then backtracking on those announcements, it turns out the M&M’s ‘spokescandies’ mascots are here to stay after all.

On Friday, a spokesperson from Mars Wrigley confirmed to the New York Times that the candy characters would be returning in an ad for the upcoming Super Bowl. The news comes after the company said, on Monday, that it would be pulling the characters from branding “indefinitely” and replacing the characters with the comedian Maya Rudolph.

The brand stunt takes advantage of the publicity from an older controversy. About a year ago, Mars Wrigley rebranded some of its M&M characters to be more inclusive, including a redesign of the green M&M that replaced her high-heeled boots with sneakers. Far-right conservative pundit and Fox News host Tucker Carlson condemned the change, at that time. And just a week ago Carlson mentioned it again, launching the M&M controversy back into the spotlight.

It’s a long and mangled story. Here’s how we got here.

What is the M&M’s ‘spokescandies’ controversy?

Roughly a year ago, Mars Wrigley updated the look of its M&M’s characters, announcing an initiative to make the mascots fit a “more dynamic, progressive world.” As part of these changes, the company introduced new designs of some of M&M’s characters and wrote weirdly elaborate backstories for others. Most notably, the company made the green M&M less “sexy” by shortening her legs and replacing her high-heeled boots with sneakers.

At the time, the change prompted criticism from feminist activists — being hot isn’t a problem unto itself — as well as far-right conservatives, who cast it as another battle in the culture wars. In January 2022, Tucker Carlson criticized the rebrand during a segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Carlson revisited the topic on his show more recently, and ended up reigniting the conversation around it. “Woke M&M’s have returned,” Carlson said. “The green M&M got her boots back, but apparently is now a lesbian maybe? And there is also a plus-sized, obese purple M&M.”

M & M’s To Withdraw Cartoon Candies After “Woke” Criticism From The Right Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We don’t know why Carlson decided to talk about M&M’s again. Mars Wrigley had not made any recent changes to the M&M characters. On his show, Carlson used two images as a reference to critique the new branding. The first was an image of the brown and green M&M’s from 2015 and the other was of the purple M&M, who was introduced in September 2022. None of this was new information. However, Mars Wrigley did announce that the brand would make an appearance during the upcoming Super Bowl.

After Carlson talked about the characters again, users on TikTok began using the audio clip of his voice to make comical videos where people lip synced to it and imagined what it was like to be in the studio that day. One audio clip alone has been used more than 13,000 times since it was published on Jan. 12; many of the TikToks using the audio were posted and viewed extensively last weekend.

Why did the M&M’s ‘spokescandies’ leave?

On Monday, the company announced that it would be pulling the ‘spokescandies’ indefinitely and replacing them with actress and comedian Maya Rudolph. The statement, tweeted from the official M&M’s account, reads, in part:

In the last year, we’ve made some changes to our beloved spokescandies. We weren’t sure if anyone would even notice. And we definitely didn’t think it would break the internet. But now we get it — even a candy’s shoes can be polarizing.

Rudolph expressed optimism about the brand deal to Today, saying, “I am a lifelong lover of the candy and I feel like it’s such an honor to be asked to be part of such a legendary brand’s campaign.”

At the time, it was hard to say if the social media shitstorm following Carlson’s comments prompted Mars Wrigley to stop using the mascots. It was possible that it could be a strange marketing ploy leading up to the Super Bowl, similar to how Planters killed Mr. Peanut and replaced him with Baby Nut. Now we know that it was indeed a giant troll. On Friday — just five days after Mars Wrigley announced it was pulling the candy mascots — the New York Times confirmed that the candies would return for the Super Bowl, and were here to stay.

“Rest assured, the characters are our official long-term spokescandies,” Mars Wrigley wrote in a statement to the New York Times, before saying that the candies are simply currently on a break.

When Mars Wrigley initially said it was pulling the candy mascots, it prompted everyone and their mom to comment on it. Users on Twitter quote-tweeted the original announcement over 22,600 times. The change became the standout news of the day, and now we know it was all to drum up hype for a Super Bowl ad. So next time someone asks who “won” the “culture wars,” you can say with confidence that the Mars Wrigley press relations team did.

Update (Jan. 27): Mars Wrigley confirmed to the New York Times that M&M’s ‘spokescandies’ mascots would be returning for the Super Bowl, and that they would remain brand representatives long-term. This story has been updated to reflect that new information.