Sunday, March 16, 2008

The worst good thing

What’s the least appealing candy bar manufactured today? If you work in an office with a communal dish of various “fun size” candy bars, you know the answer. It’s Milky Way.

At my office there’s a standard pattern for the depletion of the candy basket. After a day or so, the Butterfingers, Reese’s and Snickers have vanished. The M&M’s, both plain and peanut, have also disappeared. The mini Hershey bars are gone, probably to someone hoarding a jar of peanut butter at their desk. Even the Three Musketeers have been snatched up by desperate choco-philes making harried decisions amid dwindling options.

After 72 hours that basket is the home to the dregs of the candy world. Stale Tootsie Rolls. Hershey Kisses of indeterminate age. And of course, Milky Way minis.

But why?

A Milky Way candy bar is composed of three substances, all delightful: chocolate, caramel and nougat. It’s essentially a Snickers without peanuts. And people love Snickers. So why is it they won’t accept something that delivers 75% of what they so obviously love?

If we all agree that a Snickers is better than a Milky Way (and my office candy basket analysis supports this assessment), perhaps it’s that once you’ve had a Snickers, it’s hard to settle for less. Maybe that’s it. Maybe Milky Way is a candy bar for people who don’t mind settling for less. But, especially in today’s world, who is that exactly? And other than the picked-over candy basket scenario, when is a Milky Way your only choice?

I imagine it’s not easy to come up with a marketing strategy for Milky Way. (Snickers, by comparison, seems much more ripe for creative ideas, and the recent Feast work is both funny and true to the product’s “packed with peanuts” heritage.) What’s the draw for Milky Way? That it’s milky? That just sounds gross.

With peanut allergies at a seemingly all-time high, could Milky Way’s tagline be “Like a Snickers, but without all those pesky nuts”? I love thinking about how much time’s surely been spent pondering marketing strategies down this avenue.

Milky Way ads from the ‘80s positioned the candy as a helpful break from a busy day. I love the tagline. “A Milky Way a day helps you work rest and play.” Like it’s a sensible alternative to an apple or something. Check out this one, which may just support my claim that—ideologically—sailing was the ‘80s ultimate symbol of “the good life.” (Hence Yacht Rock.)

A spot from the ‘89 positions it as a snack that won’t spoil your dinner (which seems like another way of saying “empty calories”). Notice that this is the antithesis of the Snickers “really satisfies” strategy.

The 2006 TV spot for Milky Way focused on the idea of comfort. I guess they indeed have a softer texture than Snickers (as they lack nuts) and caramel is probably a “comfort sweet” (I’m improvising here, in case you couldn’t tell), but comfort seems more like a Three Musketeers idea.

The latest Milky Way spots continue with the sexed-up comfort theme but use the tagline “Life’s better the Milky Way.” Whatever that means.

Just as there’s been a lot of talk recently about whether or not we should do away with the penny, and just as John Moore over at Brand Autopsy often asks, “If X went away, would anyone care?” I am asking you: If Milky Way candy bars went away, would anyone care? Would anyone even notice?

So now I want to hear from you. What do you like or dislike about a Milky Way?

Tonight, while flying back to Seattle, I am going to buy myself a Milky Way candy bar (regular size) and experience it as if for the first time. I’ll report my findings.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Well. You have a good point there. I don't like peanuts, but I do love chocolate, caramel, and that nougat stuff. That's the good thing about milky way. For people who don't like nuts.

Recently I've been seeing "More caramel in every bite" on the wrappers of the 8-packs of Milky Way bars. I bought one today, and it does have a lot more creamy caramel and less nougat. I always saw Milky Way as the mixed baby of Snickers and Three Musketeers bars.