|n early 2004, Masterfoods USA planned to update its M&M’s brand — making its yellow and blue candies 25-percent brighter, changing its packaging, enlarging the “M” on the candy, and modifying the logo for the first time in 60 years. Its problem was getting media and customers to notice the changes.
However, if the product update was subtle, the re-launch was anything but. Masterfoods created a three-month promotional campaign, complete with a national contest, a bus tour, and a star-studded event.
The campaign started at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve event in New York, where Masterfoods announced that it had “drained the color” from its candies and launched the “Great Color Quest.” For three months, it sold only black-and-white M&M’s, except for six bags, each of which contained M&M’s in just one of its colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and brown. Those who found the winning bags won $20,000 and a Volkswagon Beetle in the corresponding color. Guests also received a trip for four to Los Angeles to attend the re-launch event and claim their prizes.
Instead of a conventional re-launch, Masterfoods created a lifestyle event based on the premise that the product is part of its customers’ lives, not just something that sits on a shelf. Masterfoods’ goal was to attract 500 media and celebrity attendees and to get a media mention from 60 percent of press attendees.
To accomplish this, Masterfoods’ marketing director Doug Milne worked with entertainment-publicity firm The Elevation Group and event producer Rabin Rodgers, both based in Los Angeles, and New York-based, public-relations firm Fingerprint Communications, to create a launch event that would appeal to the public’s sentimental history with the candy and align the product with celebrities.
“M&M’s believes in the power of publicity and the power of the press,” says M&M’s spokesman Jeffrey Moran. “We made a conscious effort to take the brand to Hollywood, and for many years now, we have worked with up-and-coming stars at our commercials and events. For instance, Molly Sims (from the NBC show Las Vegas) starred with our green M&M’s in a commercial before she took off.”
The event was held in the heart of Hollywood, on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle Avenue. Buzz about the party began while the event was still under construction. Helicopters and press circled as Portland, OR, -based Pacific Domes erected six domed tents, each the exact shade of one of M&M’s new colors with an “M” on top. “As the domes were going up, we were on all the news channels as the background image for their traffic reports for two days,” says Jessica Meisels, a partner at Fingerprint Communications.
Each tent was decorated in its featured color and a retro style, with M&M’s-shaped leather ottomans, beanbag chairs, and color-coordinated wait staff carrying M&M’s-shaped trays. “We made sure the event was an experience first, branding second,”
says Bryan Rabin, a partner at Rabin Rodgers. “M&M’s was everywhere, but as something
you sat on, ate, looked at, and ultimately experienced.”
M&M’s invited celebrities, including Megan Mulally, Christina Applegate, Mischa Barton, Molly Sims, Dick Clark, Carmen Electra, Dave Navarro, and three Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, to host the tents. Each celebrity symbolized one of M&M’s target markets, from teens to rock ‘n’ rollers.
Although Masterfoods only invited 500 guests, 700 showed up at the event. Thirty-seven paparazzi lined the red carpet, along with electronic media from Access, Extra, Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, and Channel 3 from Sweden. “We had them all,” Meisels says. Masterfoods met its goal of 60-percent media coverage, nabbing more than 50 media mentions to date, and an estimated 300 million media impressions, including magazine coverage by Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, US Weekly, and Variety. Those are results that won’t melt in your hand — or your mouth.