How do you take an iconic candy that's smaller than the size of a dime and blow it out into a retail store in the middle of Times Square? You use a lot of color. With a set palette and a whole lot of gloss, those tiny M&M'S candies come alive in a world where warm chocolate smells pervade and you can hear that unmistakable sound of candies falling into a bowl. Mix in a handful of interactive experiences, and you've got a 25,000-square-foot candy land where everyone gets a taste of the fun. For designers, it's a textbook case study on effective environmental branding.
To create a contemporary and geometric store design while letting the "spokescandies" do their own storytelling, Mars Inc., which owns M&M'S Brand, hired the Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman design firm after their award-winning work on the M&M'S Orlando store. Brian Shafley, the firm's president and director of creative services, says the key was balancing an iconic expression of the candy's shape, size and color with all the personalities of the "spokescandies," M&M'S Brand's popular advertising characters.
Here, at one of the world's busiest intersections, the project presented challenges of traffic and space, not to mention time: It had to be completed in 11 months to open for holiday shopping. The building has glass facades on three sides, making it a "gigantic fishbowl." With minimal wall space to work with, "the inside became the storefront," says Shafley, who served as the principal on the project.
Making a statement from the street, 17 internally illuminated columns are synced with LED lighting technology, allowing the exterior to continually change color, which is most dramatic after dark. As the entire perimeter radiates light, the store shows off its vivid floor displays to passersby. Keeping up with the varieties of electronic signs on Broadway, a rotating, internally lit sign, shaped like five stacked M&M'S candies, sits beneath a 2,500-square-foot video billboard. Before you even step inside, Shafley notes, the stage is already set. Color became critical to communicating the brand inside and out. The palette was restricted to the "sacred six colors" of M&M'S Brand – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and brown. The Chute Gerdeman team taped M&M'S candies on paper next to the corresponding Pantone colors and then matched the chips to Sherwin-Williams paint colors. Unlike most projects, where colors usually start from scratch, here the challenge lay in staying on brand. "It was so important that we got the right M&M'S colors," says Gerdeman's material and trend specialist Katie Clements. "Even with carpet and flooring, if you wanted to use red, it had to be exactly the right red." Once they chose the exact shades, the search was on for the perfect browns to make the space all the more melt-in-your-mouth chocolaty. In fact, anywhere black paint normally would have appeared, brown was used in its place. The instantly identifiable colors created a cohesive look. Then the trick was applying a variety of finishes, including semi- and high-gloss, to achieve a candy-coated sheen on the giant three-dimensional characters.
"M&M'S is a singular brand with a lot of facets," Shafley says. Therefore it was crucial to reinforce that brand all over the store. The merchandise ranges from T-shirts, housewares and collectibles to the actual candies, which are displayed in 6-foot-tall M&M'S-shaped fixtures. But that's only part of what makes the store highly branded. Everywhere are reminders of how big the name is and how much fun you can have with it. A full-size M&M'S #38 NASCAR race car makes speedway sounds. Nearby, the Color Mood Analyzer, a machine that Chute Gerdeman created, "scans" you and tells you in a comical computerized voice what M&M'S color you are.
Throughout the building, color acts as a metaphor for diversity, while "the world's biggest wall of chocolate," measuring 50 feet by 22 feet, strengthens that message. Here, two stories display 72 M&M'S-candyfilled tubes where customers can create their own personal mix. Playing off the United Nations, a wall covered with international flags encourages customers to make a one-of-a-kind mix using their country's colors. The price is $9 a pound, but where else can you take home a custom bag of M&M'S candies representing Italy, the Red Sox or your alma mater?
"This is a chance for people to immerse themselves in all things M&M'S," says Phil Levine, a spokesperson for the Mars Retail Group. Call it environmental branding, retail therapy or "retail-tainment," he calls the flagship store a destination where customers can connect with their favorite M&M'S candy – and we all have one. "People are devoted to their favorite M&M'S color," he says. "The store does its best to reflect that dedication."