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Exploring the Controversy Over M&M’s Packaging – And What Lessons You Can Learn About Packaging Redesigns

Sometimes, packaging redesigns can be an excellent way to boost your brand and update aging packaging. Other times, however, they can lead to negative attention. M&M’s recently showed that even well-established brands can face challenges when deciding what to do with their packaging.

The M&M’s Controversy

The controversy came when M&M’s released limited-edition packaging in January. Somehow, the packaging in question managed to offend people on both political extremes.

The Change

The packaging debuted with more purple on the packaging and only female characters: Green, Brown, and Purple. According to Mars —the company that owns M&M’s— this design was very intentional. It was designed to celebrate women. Specifically, it celebrates women “flipping” the status quo. That “flipping” of the status quo is why the female M&M’s on the purple background appear upside down on the packaging.

Not Just Talk

In addition to updating its packaging, M&M’s also planned to donate up to $800,000 to organizations supporting women. Up to $500,000 of this includes $1 from each pack sold. There are also 10 grants of $10k and $300k in additional donations.

People Were Very Happy or Very Upset

The reactions to the M&M’s limited-edition packaging tended to extremes. Many people called the packaging insensitive, while others called it sensitive. Some critics referred to it as performative feminism. On the other end of the spectrum, some critics compared the all-female packaging to the lack of all-male packaging on nearly any product.

Others praised the intention behind the campaign but said the execution could use some work. For example, some highlighted that putting the female M&M’s upside down came across wrong.

Supporters of the change point out the charitable donations in addition to the limited-edition packaging, indicating that M&M’s didn’t just change its packaging for attention.

Yet others have just sat back and pointed out that no one should be this upset over the packaging for candy.

Your Takeaway When Redesigning Your Packaging

Now that you are familiar with the changes to the M&M’s packaging and the heated debate about it, what is the takeaway for other brands?

Be Intentional and Consider Redesigns Carefully

This controversy simply reiterates that you need to be intentional about any packaging redesigns. You need to always keep your audience in mind when designing or redesigning your packaging. If you are going to make a seemingly dramatic change, always talk to your customer base first. Use a survey or a similar method of getting feedback to see how customers feel about your change.

You Can’t Please Everyone

Another important lesson is that you can’t please everyone. No matter your product packaging, some people will love it, some will hate it, and others will be indifferent. Instead of trying to please everyone, make sure that your packaging appeals to most of your customer base. That is the best you will be able to do.


M&M’s limited-edition packaging featuring only female M&M’s recently sparked controversy. Given that even a well-established brand like Mars potentially made a mistake, it reiterates the importance of carefully considering your packaging redesigns and getting feedback from customers.

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