Just in time for the holidays, it’s time for another installment of “brush with greatness.”
Back in 1996, I was a punk account executive at BBDO, the famous (or perhaps infamous) ad agency that was later the model for the TV show Mad Men. I was toiling away on the relatively sleepy Campbell’s Soup account, when, in a seismic industry shift, the Mars company reworked all of their agency relationships, and – just like that – the M&M’s characters hopped right up onto my desk. I was suddenly managing the country’s largest confection brand, and was reassured by my new clients Michael and Kathy that they loved their current ad campaign, and all BBDO had to do was “make it even better.” Hmm. Oh, and “by the way,” they told me, “we’re running a little promotion called ‘Color Vote’ that will allow folks to choose the next color to go in the bag.” Fingers crossed.
And that’s when colorful chocolate magic happened. The creative team assigned to the task were my friends Susan and Steve (not yet famous). And they came up with a simple, powerful idea: what if the M&M characters were celebrities in their own right? Sure, they can be candy spokes-folks by day, but at night they should hang with A-listers, attend the Oscars, and crack jokes on the Tonight Show. The team dreamed up stories where Red and Yellow traded barbs with famous folks like Steven Weber (star of Wings) and Tia Carrera (Wayne’s World). The Yellow character was originally voiced by John Goodman (Roseanne) and Red by Jon Lovitz (SNL). And, for the production itself, we turned to Wil Vinton Studios (California Raisins), which was ready to make the jump from Claymation to Computermotion. Oh, and “by the way,” that Color Vote turned into a blockbuster, with America singing the “M&M’s Blues.” Quick, somebody get BB (King of the Blues) on the phone!
The result was the sweetest advertising in the history of sweets. The Color Vote phones were ringing off the hook, the commercials were adorable, and soon everyone in America was rushing out to buy a bag of M&M’s, “now with New Blue!”
In the months that followed, there were other M&M colored characters to introduce, and more celebrities to meet. Including, in December, perhaps the most famous celebrity in the world (lives at the North Pole, drives a sled pulled by flying reindeer). In a holiday ad that has since become a classic, the M&M’s catch Santa delivering presents, Red cries out in shock, “He does exist!” followed by Santa who replies, “They do exist!” whereupon both faint in disbelief, leaving Yellow muttering, “um…Santa?”
That was 21 Christmases ago. And since that time, this amazing campaign has sweetly rolled on and on and on. And every holiday season has been marked by the magic moment when Santa and Red hit the deck, and Yellow just goes on wondering…
Until this year. Apparently somebody over at the advertising agency asked the obvious question, “I wonder what happens next?” And folks started spit-balling ideas. And a story developed. And a pitch was made. And a commercial was born.
And so, for your holiday viewing pleasure, I’m pleased to present the long-awaited next chapter in the story. Presenting, “A Very Yellow Sequel.” Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnJCgE3hqpc
Thanks Mike, Kathy, Susan, Steve and Wil. Thanks Steven, Tia, BB and Santa. And thanks Red and Yellow (and you too, Blue).
And Happy Holidays to the rest of you. May they be sweet and colorful.