Marketing the Rainbow

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Mars Inc is an American multinational with US$37 billion in annual sales. It was ranked as the 6th largest privately held company in the United States by Forbes. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, USA, the company is entirely owned by the Mars family. Mars operates in five business segments around the world: Confectionery, Petcare, Food, Drinks and Symbioscience.

Their brands include Mars bars, Milky Way bars (3 Musketeers), M&M's, Skittles, Snickers, Twix, Maltesers, Ben's Original, Pedigree, Whiskas, Wrigley & Orbit gum, Galaxy/Dove and Starburst.

Their corporate strategy includes partnerships with Inclusion and Diversity  organizations including Catalyst (Gender), Out & Equal (LGBTQ+), Stonewall (LGBTQ+) and Gender Fair and relevant Associate Resource Groups. They also have a Global Inclusion & Diversity Officer and a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's 2021 Corporate Equality Index.

Many of the brands have had an adventure or two in Marketing the Rainbow, some more consistent, successful drama-free or funny than others.

Accountant (2018)

Dating is difficult… but Sarah thinks she’s worked out why. A young woman sits with her group of friends and says what trouble she's having to date and notes, "It's almost like I'm being discriminated against." Her friends, giving her a hard time, chime in with faulty reasons. "It's because you're a lesbian," one jokes. "Because you're a vegetarian," another chimes in. "What is it then?" one asks. She replies, "I'm an accountant." Playing along, her friend says, "Oh my god, that's disgusting." The others continue -- mock horrified -- "That's not natural" and "Do your parents know?" "Maltesers believe life’s better when we don’t take things too seriously." Michele Oliver, Marketing VP at Mars Chocolate UK, told PinkNews that the ad was part of a broader drive to shine a light on underrepresented women. “The adverts recreate real-life situations faced by women from different groups in society who you don’t often see or hear from,” said Oliver. Stonewall helped to source some of the focus groups who contributed ideas to inspire the ad. Many comments on the YouTube channel were negative, but overall the ad was received favorably

This article was last updated Dec 3, 2021

Naughty (2008)

We see two straight couples, where boys the boys are asleep. The girls feel naught - because they are eating Maltesers? - and rearrange the boys' poses. The scared / angry look of the one boy who wakes up spoils the fun of naughtiness a bit. 

The commercial aired without much comment in many territories. However, in Australia, the Advertising Standards Board was prompted to investigate after it received several complaints. One complainant said: ‘I find it very offensive that while I’m watching tv with my child that an ad with a man kiss another man (sic) to come on to try and sell chocolates just like smoking and drinking alcohol leads to young people to do these things I feel strong that advertising homosexuals is try to turn young people gay.’  Another was disappointed that the commercial appeared to make the same-sex behavior the source of humor: ‘The two women place their boyfriends in a sexual/suggestive position while they are asleep. They are seen to kiss. The two women then laugh at what they have done.

In response, Mars stated: "The advertisement was created to depict a range of people acting in a playful, innocent manner as they consume Maltesers. The advertisement does not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community. The intention of this particular advertisement was to showcase a playful moment between two girl friends … The way they position their respective boyfriend is in no way sexually suggestive and in fact is something that would be acceptable to do in public without causing offence."

EXTRA gum (2021)

Céline Dion’s 'It's All Coming Back to Me Now' thunders throughout the 2-minute spot of EXTRA gum (a brand of Wrigley/Mars). They only state "We could all use a fresh start.", but this clip has it all. Fun, acting, lunacy, cuteness and of course Diversity (including kissing males). Extra is belongs to the privately held Mars Inc. AdWeek: "The amount of death, economic anxiety, social isolation and political strife that’s occurred over the past 14 months or so is something anyone who’s lived through it will never forget. But change is coming. Life under lockdown will end. Soon. In a two-minute spot, Extra gum imagines a morning when normal returns all at once. A woman receives a text informing her it’s OK to meet in person again. A man shaves his beard. Everyone logs off Zoom. Disheveled people emerge from their homes in disbelief. Couples meet in a park and begin making out. There’s lots of making out. Céline Dion’s power ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” plays throughout. And, of course, some scenes show individuals putting a piece of Extra gum in their mouth—because being in public is a thing again, and no one appreciates bad breath. A year of people living in quarantine has been good for some everyday products but bad for others. Toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and potato chips have benefited from increased demand; razors, deodorant, condoms, mints and gum have not. The commercial, titled “For When It’s Time,” was made by Energy BBDO and filmed in Santiago, Chile, in early March."

Promises - Different Every Time (2005)

Galaxy is a chocolate brand, also called Dove in some markets. A woman suns herself on her terrace during a lovely day, while enjoying chocolates as a bell tolls nearby. She begins to eye a man on a nearby, higher terrace, who smiles at her. Suddenly, he's joined by another man with his arms around him. Realizing her mistake, that her neighbor is gay, she nods her head in disappointment as if thinking, "The good ones always are." AdRespect gives the ad an "Equal rating" (50/50) for its inclusive and nonjudgmental reference to a male couple.


Give the Rainbow, Taste the Rainbow

Since Pride 2016 they stated that "only one rainbow matters" - in a very clear and clever way: they gave theirs up. Rainbowless packs were back with each pack raising money for Switchboard - the LGBT+ Helpline.

For some reasons, sourpusses criticized the white on white design: according to Mashable "many consumers expressed concern that the message could be linked to white pride, a racialist concept promoted by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups." Skittles deployed a more varied grayscale for 2020 and 2021.





In 2020 the rainbowless packs were also introduced in the USA. The limited-edition offering, previously sold in Canada, Germany and the U.K., was made available at CVS and select Walmart stores. Skittles partnered with GLAAD to donate $1 per pack sold to the LGBT media advocacy group, up to $100,000. They created a #OneRainbow hashtag to promote the effort online.

2016                                             2017                                              2018

The brand also participated in Pride festivals in Toronto and Vancouver.

Recolor the rainbow (2021)

In 2021, when most live events were cancelled, they had a campaign that was run on social media mostly, like these on Instagram and Twitter. It was called Recolor the rainbow this time, and it used previously black-and-white images of iconic moments turned into in full color to shine light on community's milestones. It was a collaboration with Gay Times Group, the charity Queer Britain and LGBT+ helpline Switchboard.

2019                                             2020                                              2021


Snickers has had a mixed history in Marketing the Rainbow: from gay vague, double entendres an insults to support and sponsorships. See separate article


The new nanny (2021)

Another viral campaign video (top 10 on my channel) was sponsored by Twix - so not exactly a Twix commercial. The brand does appear in the opening and ending shots, but not as a product or label in the 2 minute clip.

The Halloween-themed video featuring a cross-dressing child had social media fuming. For some reason, most comments mentioned a "transgender" kid, which goes to show that things may be confusing. He may just like the princess dress!

The video was part of Hulu's ‘Bize Size Halloween’ collection of short films, meant to tie into the Halloween holiday and, of course, to sell chocolate bars. The collection was created by 18 young queer filmmakers from various backgrounds, produced by 20th Digital Studio. Twix, Skittles, and Snickers sponsored some of the ads, which aired throughout October on the channels Freeform, FX, and FXX.

With their rainbow of colors (with brown sometimes substituting purple) M&M is an ideal brand to show support to the rainbow community. And they have done so for years. See separate article.

Altoids are a brand of mints, sold primarily in distinctive metal tins - created in the 1780s (!) and since 2004 owned by Wrigley. Over the years they have had a few very gay print ads, word play included.


The sour man (2004)

An early display of Marketing the Rainbow for Skittles. "The sour man" examines the cook to see if he qualifies for Sour Skittles. One of the tests is a smack on his buttocks. The cook gives a bewildered look. The man on the prep table and the Sour Man exchange nods of approval. He has passed the test. AdRespect: "Part of Skittles' campaign, this ad combines many weird acts including physical contact between the cook and the Sour Man. However, the physical act is not singled out as something particularly strange in this commercial."

Even more so than M&Ms, Skittles uses the rainbow in their product - they even have it as their tagline "Taste The Rainbow".

Uncle Ben's

Detained (2004)

In a telenovela format complete with overacting and drama, a woman angrily storms into the home of her boyfriend, who is wearing an open, silky red bathrobe. The woman suspects him to be cheating on her and asks: "She cooks for you?" With a melodramatic pause he answers, "Not she, Constance. He." In the closing shot, the woman stand next to her beau as he concentrates on his food. She asks, "So what's it going to be, breakfast or me?" Without turning, he casually replies, "You're still here?" The company declined on multiple occasions to discuss its commercial.

Balloon Frau (Germany, 2001)

Uncle Ben's (now Ben's Originals) made this cute ad in Germany. The storyline is not very original ("confusion") but it is nicely done. German gay market consultant Michael Stuber, who publishes Rosa Brille said: "How very romantic: a balcony scene. Our Romeo sends Julia a light Rispinos snack by 'airmail.' But Julian - one floor underneath - grabs the package, and he is delighted. Thank you! Kisses from Julian to Romeo! Oops - just keep cool, everybody. But that’s no problem for today’s snack generation that is so open and relaxed about diversity."


Case study: Mars, Inc.

Branche: fmcg