An Open Letter To Mars, Incorporated: Why Using Rape Culture to Sell M&Ms Isn’t Okay

Dear Mars, Incorporated, and, specifically, those involved in creating advertisements for M&M chocolates,

There’s this thing that happens sometimes, when you’re a survivor of sexual violence, or if you study it for a living, or if you’re simply attuned to and interested in how sexual violence continues to permeate our society. You start to see sexual violence everywhere. You hear it referenced in songs, like Rick Ross’s “U.O.E.N.O.” that casually mention using date rape drugs. You notice it in rape chants sung on Canadian university campuses. You may start to find out that a large number of your friends, family members, and acquaintances (of all genders and sexualities) have experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact. And, most notably, you see sexual violence in numerous advertisements, especially in the fashion, alcohol, and luxury goods industries. In fact, once you look around, you tend to find it in more places than you might have previously liked to believe. You might even ask yourself: “How has this become a socially acceptable thing? Why is rape the punchline of a joke, the casual lyric of a song, or a popular image used to sell anything from handbags to shoes?”

Of course, once you start to notice this, people will probably tell you that you’re overreacting. They might tell you that the critiques of rape chants on university campuses are proof that “feminist ideologues” are just pushing their “pro-consent propaganda” on everyone, and that anti-oppression activists are always just looking for a way to ruin people’s fun. Because they’ll say, as you might have previously believed, that rape culture is just something that can “build community and bring people out of their bubbles,” like when they chant about it at a frosh week event. Or they might tell you that you’re totally missing the point, and that images of a woman’s bruised and battered face are just a creative choice and that you’re clearly not appreciating what constitutes art.

I was actually eating M&Ms while doing my research on sexual violence yesterday. An unhappy coincidence.

I was actually eating M&Ms while doing my research on sexual violence yesterday. An unhappy coincidence.

But, you see, there’s this problem. Rape chanting-students, Rick Ross, and Dolce & Gabbana aren’t the only ones who are using sexual violence as a means of having fun or selling products. You are too.

Last night, after unwinding from a long day of feeling sick and doing work, I decided to watch some television. Rather coincidentally, I had just spent the afternoon eating most of a bag of M&Ms. And that’s when I saw one of the commercials that you released earlier this year. You’re obviously familiar with it, since you created it, but for those who aren’t, here it is. I’m going to put a TRIGGER WARNING on this.

Now, here’s the thing. I wonder that you think your ad is kind of funny, I mean, these cute little M&Ms are about to be devoured by this big bad red-haired lady who totally just can’t help herself around chocolate! That’s not like rape at all, right? I mean, first of all, they’re animated chocolate characters. Plus, the “big bad devourer” who is unwittingly going to attack the little anthropomorphized M&M is a woman, so, obviously that’s way more funny, and way less rape-like than if it had been a man, right? And it’s an advertisement for chocolate, not for alcohol, so that totally has nothing to do with sexual violence, right?

I’m sorry. But I’m going to have to tell you that you’re wrong. 

The entire premise of this advertisement is a classic reflection of real-life scenarios of sexual violence, and it’s being used, just like so many other companies, to try and sell products. An anthropomorphized M&M is “warned” about the predatory nature of a woman who “just cannot help herself,” then sets up her M&M friend to be taken away from the party by this predatory woman, who then leads that M&M away to her car, locks the doors, and attacks him. The last frame of the advert is the a shot of the parked car, with the poor little red M&M screaming.

The advertisement does not merely “imply,” “gesture towards,” or “hint” at what has happened to so many victims of sexual violence, it actually mirrors it and reproduces it, line by line, word by word, action by action.

  • People setting up their friends to be assaulted? Definitely happens.
  • People having to be warned of the predatory nature of certain partygoers? Definitely happens.
  • Perpetrators being justified in their actions because they or others say that they “just couldn’t help themselves?” Definitely happens.
  • Individuals being isolated, especially in cars, by their perpetrators? Definitely happens.
  • Women being the perpetrators of sexual assault? Definitely happens, even though society keeps treating male victims and female perpetrators as a source of comedy. [Just read, if you can stomach it, the absolutely abhorrent article that Star columnist Rosie DiManno wrote following the gang assault of a young man in Toronto.]

M&M has a long history of being a successful and well-known product, and the Mars Chocolate company has a long history of being a successful and profitable corporation. You certainly don’t need to stoop to shock-tactic advertising in order to garner more sales.

Corporate responsibility goes far beyond product safety and health standards about how many calories are in M&Ms and are there peanut-free facilities, etc. Your responsibility extends into social responsibility. As a consumer, especially one who has bought your products, I do not need to be reminded that rape is taken so lightly in this culture that it is being used to sell candy. I do not need to hear the lock of a car door and a scream, to be reminded of what once happened to me in a car. Male victims, especially, do not need to be reminded that they face an uphill battle in being taken seriously.

You don’t have to sell out rape victims in order to maintain a hefty profit margin, or or in order to keep your consumers amused. Your website says that you “take [your] responsibility for marketing brands appropriately very seriously.” As a well-known global brand, it is your duty to live up to that statement.

In the meantime, consider me a lost customer. Not surprisingly, I’ve lost my appetite.

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13 comments

  1. In the movie Dayz and Confused Matthew McConaghy said that he was glad that the girls stayed the same age and he was growing older. This advocates statutory rape. In Animal House, Pinto was about to score when his gf passed out. He struggled with his conscience while this is never acceptable.

    In Porkys the boys were out chasing butt and even one teacher and another adult. The saddest part of this is that is they bash the very women who gave them what they wanted. This is a position that I find reprehensible.

  2. I also nominated you for a Liebster Award, very thought provoking and wonderful to read. You have a command of the English language I envy and the ability to express yourself in the written word that conveys your meaning perfectly and with a confidence that is nearly audible. I just write funny little blurbs on nerd culture and try to sound intelligent. Keep on doing what you do, you’re great at it 🙂

  3. Well done Lucia, well done indeed. I guess my ignorance overshadows my intellect as I have watched this ad many times and not given it much thought in regards to rape. But, indeed you are correct. Thank you for sharing this and writing the post so beautifully. I love following your blog material.

  4. So I read the first leg of the column, and I was expecting some subtle, innuendo-laden piece. Then I watched the video at the mid-point. And even without sound, by the end, I was physically sick to my stomach. As you note–not subtle, not hinting. Outright, “This is just like what happens in a rape scenario.” And of course, it plays directly into the notion that the rapist ‘can’t help it’. Thank you, thank you, for calling out this horrible, horrible piece of crap ad.

  5. This company is comprised of soulless Ass Clowns who get off on torturing animals for vivisection so it doesn’t come as any surprise to me that their commercials would be rife with sexual exploitation. As a vegan I do not eat M&Ms and no amount of commercial advertising is going to convince me otherwise. As an animal rights activists M&M Mars disgusts me.

    Great post, btw.

  6. Lucia, I shared your piece with a lady friend of my wife and me. She is a survivor of child sexual abuse. As a beautician she was relaying the substance of your article to her women customers. The first comment she received was she was overreacting to the commercial. The next comment though was a different response. The lady was reading the Sept, 2013 copy of Allure as she was waiting her turn. She related and showed my friend, the beautician, an article entitled “Autumn Noir” in the magazine on pages 210-217. There were four, two page, photos spreads of two women, one woman in a submissive pose and one in a dominant pose. The lady had noticed the similarity between the M&M advertisement and the photo spread in Allure. I asked our lady friend to let me see the article so I could see it for myself. It is undeniable. Thus, the conclusion I come to, is there is a much greater influence in the marketing field of the rape culture than only the M&M commercial. This is not an overreaction to those who would think so. It is the constant beating of the drum that violence against women is accepted. And this in a women’s magazine.

  7. Just found this post by googling about the recent mars+geico commercial in which the lizard says he can’t possibly provide insurance coverage to “a piece of delicious chocolate” about the brown m&m… *sigh* apparently they still haven’t learned.

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