Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chocolate candies, red dye, and the power of perception

In marketing, perception is reality. In the mid-1970s, health concerns arose over the use of the dye amaranth, commonly known as FD&C Red #2. Studies linked the popular food coloring with cancer. Mars Inc., makers of M&M's, decided in 1976 to replace red M&M candies with orange ones. Did the candymaker eliminate red M&M's because they contained the dye in question? No. In fact, the candies contained a different (and safe) red dye. Instead, the company decided to remove the red candies to allay the fears of consumers who worried about anything with red dye in it.

Mars understood the power of perception. Although its product was perfectly safe, the company knew that consumers were concerned. Sure, it could have stuck with the red candies and focused its marketing on explaining that the red dye it used was safe. After all, that was the truth, and many people would surely have believed it. But Mars knew that not everyone would feel comfortable with that explanation. The brand might have been hurt by this negative perception. So, even though the truth was on its side, Mars decided to make a fairly significant change. In the process, it generated a lot of goodwill and got the added bonus (and buzz) of introducing a new color to the M&M's fold.

How do people perceive your products, services, and brand? Are there any misconceptions that could be adversely affecting you? If so, what changes can you make to alleviate those concerns and improve your image? And what extra value can you get from making those changes?

There's one final chapter to the red M&M's story worth noting. Eleven years after pulling red M&M's off the market, Mars reintroduced the color in 1987. It proved a popular addition at the time and remains so today.

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