SAN FRANCISCO -- After causing outrage by making over the Green M&M and launching a special bag featuring its new Purple character in honor of International Women's Day, M&M'S says it is taking a step back from its candy reps - sort of.
"In the last year, we've made some changes to our beloved spokescandies," the chocolate candy brand said in a statement Monday. "We weren't sure if anyone would even notice. And we definitely didn't think it would break the internet."
The brand added that the changes were so polarizing that "we have decided to take an indefinite pause from the spokescandies." Mars has tapped comedian and actress Maya Rudolph to represent the product instead.
"We are confident Ms. Rudolph will champion the power of fun to create a world where everyone feels they belong," M&M'S, which is owned by Mars, said in a statement Monday.
The partnership with Rudolph has been "in the works for a while," said Gabrielle Wesley, chief marketing officer for Mars Wrigley North America, in a statement emailed to CNN.
"There are lots of stories out there but let me say conclusively that this decision isn't a reaction to but rather is in support of our M&M'S brand," Wesley said. "The original colorful cast of M&M'S spokescandies are, at present, pursuing other personal passions."
That doesn't mean the brand is ditching the candy characters: "We will share more on the spokescandies new pursuits over the next few weeks," a spokesperson told CNN.
Rudolph will appear in an M&M'S Super Bowl commercial. Mars announced in December that it would run an ad during the game. Online, some guessed right away that the announcement was part of a Super Bowl campaign, while others criticized the brand for bowing to pressure. Even Merriam Webster weighed in, tweeting that "spokescandies" is not in the dictionary.
M&M'S sparks controversy
Last year, M&M'S unveiled a new look for all of its anthropomorphized chocolate characters to make them more relevant to young consumers.
Most of the updates were subtle. But the change to Green's shoes, from go-go boots to sneakers, caused outrage on social media, with many bemoaning the loss of the character's signature look. A petition to "keep the green M&M sexy" garnered over 20,000 signatures. (M&M'S didn't heed the plea, but did note in its statement on Monday that "even a candy's shoes can be polarizing," adding that "was the last thing M&M'S wanted since we're all about bringing people together.")
And then in September, M&M'S announced another change: A new female character, Purple, was joining the lineup (but not actual bags of candy) in another effort to make the group of spokescandies more inclusive. Purple was recently deployed as part of a limited-edition pack of purple, brown and green M&M'S - the colors of the female spokescandies - in honor of International Women's Day.
That move prompted another round of criticism.
"If this is what you need for validation, an M&M that is the color that you think is associated with feminism, then I'm worried about you," Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum said, adding that the move emboldened China. "I think that makes China say, 'Oh, good, keep focusing on that. Keep focusing on giving people their own color M&M'S while we take over all of the mineral deposits in the entire world.'"
A graphic on a Fox show even called the candy "woke."
Jane Hwang, Global Vice President of M&M'S, previously told CNN that the reaction to Green's change was "unprecedented" and that "we were incredibly overwhelmed."
But, she said at the time, "now we know for certain that M&M'S is a cultural icon."
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