The Power and Glory of M&Ms cover

The Power and Glory of M&Ms

By ,

Sure they can be addictive (have you ever eaten just one?), but could the humble M&M be considered a powerful achievement?
FEE: Foundation for Economic Education
CC BY 4.0

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The Power and Glory of M&Ms

When we think of America’s greatest achievements – Hollywood, jazz, TexMex – we too often leave out what the 21st century may eventually reveal to be the greatest of all: M&M candies. How many times have you reached for a bag at the convenience store and found that they satisfied your deepest longings? And yet how often and for how long do you really reflect on their meaning in your life?

They are not given to us in the state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish, and not candy-coated, and includes no moment of decision between plain and peanut. M&Ms had to be invented, and they were, in 1941, as a solution to the problem of how chocolate too often melts in your hand and thereby not in your mouth. That was the beginning of what would become a mighty and wonderfully persistent and reliable source of delight for many generations.

Image by Supercarwaar, CC BY-SA 4.0

I’ve toured, over the course of an entire evening, one of the most thrilling stores I’ve encountered. In “Four Floors of Fun,” the M&M store in Las Vegas gives you an opportunity to acquire M&M candies in every conceivable color and flavor, plus M&M potholders, camis, laptop cameras, boxer shorts, pencil holders, notepads, stuffed pillows, shorts, martini glasses, socks, totes, lunch boxes, action figures, footballs, soap, beach towels, laptop covers, refrigerator magnets, and so on.

The store even includes the M&M Nascar.


Making People Happy

This is a whole world of M&Ms, product marketing based on product marketing based on product marketing based on product marketing. The consumers love it, traveling up the escalators and down again. Smiles and love everywhere. I can’t imagine that anyone leaves this store without buying something, and feeling very happy for having done so.

And this is how it should be because products are the story of our lives. If we love life, we should love M&Ms. If we love M&Ms, we should love products that embody the spirit of that love.

Then he revealed to me the full truth. He had an M&M problem.

And if we love that spirit, we should love four full floors of a glorious shop that puts it all on display, and so we do. To confirm, I asked the checkout lady if she loved her job. She beamed and said nothing in this world makes her more proud than her job at the M&M store.

As she should be. It wasn’t until the birth of modernity in 16th century Spain that common people had the chance to experience chocolate, this food of the gods from ancient Aztec culture. But it wasn’t until the 20th century with advanced stages of capitalism that it landed on shelves for you and me to grab and eat. Now we think of it as a cultural given.

Image by Bernard Spragg. NZ, public domain.

It is anything but, and it took incredible guts, creativity, and dedication to make it all so accessible to us.

M&Ms represent that late stage of a 500-year economic process to get what we crave from far-flung places on the planet straight to the 7-11 down the street. This is an achievement worth celebrating.

Celebrating Too Much?

I once knew a man who celebrated too much. I knew it the moment I saw him at Sam’s with an entire shopping cart full of the bulk-sized M&M bags. I wondered at the time if he had a problem, and this was confirmed to me over the following months when his girth grew and grew. I didn’t want to be the one who brought it up first, but at lunch one day, he took out a mere three M&Ms and ate them for dessert with great satisfaction.

A great company has figured out how to delight us to no end by giving us what we want, which is more chocolate and ever more convenient forms.

Then he revealed to me the full truth. He had an M&M problem. But he was under counseling and recently acquired a machine he thought would fix the problem. It dispensed M&Ms on a highly disciplined schedule, depending on his own health aspirations. He dialed the machine to give him only 5 M&Ms per hour. He would wait patiently by the machine until the top of the hour when the 5 would come rolling out. He would eat them and then wait another 59 minutes for the next batch.

He did gradually thin out, thanks to this advanced M&M dispensary. Most of the rest of us, lacking access to such techy equipment, have to find the discipline within ourselves.

But the job of the company is to make that ever more difficult, as they did in 1995 when the M&M company introduced personalities associated with its blue, yellow, green, and red M&Ms, thereby making them ever more present in our lives.

Matters became serious in the early 2000s when we were introduced to who is now the feminist icon, the “Chief Chocolate Officer,” Ms. Brown with her sexy white pumps and sometimes overly officious ways that are nonetheless necessary given the traditionalist intransigence of the staff over which she rules.

Can M&Ms become more yummy? Doesn’t seem possible.

There seems to be no end to the marketing creativity. It’s true that it is all designed to cause money to leave our pockets in order to enter their pockets, but limiting the point to that observation is a purely cynical way to look at it.

What’s actually going on is that a great company has figured out how to delight us to no end by giving us what we want, which is more chocolate and ever more convenient forms.

Tiny Package, Massive Happiness

The whole phenom is stunning to consider. Isolate one M&M and consider its significance, the power embodied in this small item of immense joy, and how it has so mightily contributed to human well-being.

Then calculate the expense of war, social programs, infrastructure developments, space programs, and foreign aid. No government anywhere, no matter how many trillions have been squandered, no matter how many masterminds have labored, has created anything as wonderful as a tiny drop of chocolate with a candy shell that melts in your mouth and not in your hand.

Hold that M&M. Adore it. Eat it. There’s another one where that came from. God willing, there always will be.