A Marketing Lesson from Mars

Have you ever heard of Smarties? They’re little chocolate sweets very similar to M&M’s but they’re owned by Nestle and have been around since 1882!! They’re big in Europe.

M&M’s were first sold in 1941. Rumour has it that the founders of Mars Confectionary Company saw Smarties during the Spanish Civil war and copied the idea. Mars have been producing M&M’s since 1941.

History lesson over, let’s get back to present day…..

I enjoyed a family break to London recently with my wife and two kids. My kids are 8 and 10 years old so I use the term ‘break’ loosely.

One of the things my daughter was DESPERATE to do was visit M&M’s world. M&M’s World is a four storey building in central London dedicated entirely to M&M’s!

After hearing “can we go now daddy” for the one millionth time I thought we should check it out. I walked in expecting a shop selling M&M’s. That would be logical.  But I was very wrong! I took one step inside M&M’s World and I literally felt like I was on another planet.

It was chaos, but in a good way.  Upbeat music was blaring out the speakers all around you. Customers and staff were dancing around the place. M&M’s characters were wandering around high fiving everyone. The scent of chocolate was being pumped out of the air conditioning. Everywhere you looked someone was taking a selfie.  This wasn’t a shop. It was an experience.

I couldn’t believe what was being sold inside this mad world.  Every piece of merchandise imaginable was M&M’s branded and flying off the shelves. Candy dispensers, gadgets, clothes, jewellery, household goods, and everything else you could imagine. The person in front of me at the checkout spent over £600! 

After a couple of hours I managed to get out and back to normality. I was surprised and impressed at how unique and engaging the whole experience was. I started to think about how Mars took a simple chocolate sweet, that wasn’t even original, and turned it into such a win-win situation with delighted customers and a profitable business. I wondered why so many people were devoted to the brand of M&M’s but not Smarties. A few things that stood out for me personally were as follows.

  • It’s all about the MARKETING. Smarties existed before M&M’s and they are both essentially the same thing. They’re little pieces of chocolate covered in colourful shells. Good luck trying to differentiate them with a ‘cheat sheet’. The difference was clearly in the marketing.
  • Clear and consistent BRAND. Whether I visit M&M’s world, watch one of their TV ads, or visit their website, the brand is clear and consistent. Everything about them is colourful, fun, humorous, and engaging. All the way from the website to the staff member taking your cash at the checkout.
  • CUSTOMER experience is key. This is the biggest one by far in my opinion. If you asked me to choose between a packet of Smarties or M&M’s before my visit to M&M’s world I would have taken the Smarties. If you asked me now then I would take the M&M’s every time. I’m not even sure why. But I assume it has something to do with the fact I had a fun, engaging, and memorable experience with my family that M&M’s helped make happen.

The points above are just my own thoughts based on my own personal experience. I would love to hear what you think. Please leave some comments in the comments box below if you have any.