Mars “Protein” bar: A reconfiguration of “Work, rest and play?”

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The Mars Bar was first produced in Slough by Forrest Mars Sr., an American who adapted the US chocolate bar “Milky Way”, making it sweeter and better suited to the British taste, a treat to help: “work, rest and play”. This embraced a versatile approach to work, with advertising in 1982 proclaiming the bar was suited: “In any job, whatever its size”. The “play” aspect of the slogan closely associates between the bar and either playing or the spectating of sport, most evident in the “Believe” campaign at major events such as football World Cups and Olympics. The features of the Mars bar have also been targeted at different consumers. For example, targeting a ‘lighter’ and more appealing version at females in 2002 – with a slogan – “pleasure you can’t measure” or adapting the cocoa strength for specific geographical regions. Regardless of the slight nuances and tastes, I could be wrong, but historically their appeal has come from being an ultimately unhealthy snack that produces a sense of satisfaction not accomplished from carrot sticks and hummus?

The market of healthy snack and protein bars has long been saturated with products to suit every shape and size, all occupying varied lifestyles: from normal gym-goers to more serious athletes, from workaholics to working mums, from cradle to grave. These products tend to market themselves with different combinations of macro nutrients comprised of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Such variations include higher fat and lower carbohydrates, higher carbohydrates and less fat, high protein and lower carbohydrates, the inclusion of specific types of vitamins, and those which are gluten, nut and additive free etc. In short, each one of these products are scientifically designed and sold as containing the perfect nutritional content for functional consumption at a specific time of the day, but have not really been perceived as having the satiation of sweeter unhealthier culinary delights, like the Mars Bar. Their function is very much in tune with a modern era that requires us to self-govern and optimise our health.

So, in September this year, when Mars launched its new protein Mars bar I was little perplexed. Apparently “you can have all the same great taste you love in a Mars bar now with 19g of protein” and with far less sugar, fat and carbohydrate.

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This new Protein Mars bar is ultimately appealing to a very large part of the population whom have become obsessively healthy because it offers the potential for a little indulgence (combined with a very well-known brand that has traditionally been a treat) whilst upholding our predominant self-conscious health agendas. This is not really what we would expect from a Mars bar.

Of course, there is much divided opinion on the company’s Twitter Feed espousing both opinions regarding taste and function. Opinions of taste are rather polemic: “disgusting, too chewy”, or “sweet and delicious”. With the product’s function, these views are also polemic: “these aren’t proper health” or “these are great, they let me be healthy without actually being healthy”.

For sure, Nestle will make significant profit with their diversified bar, given that it has traditionally promised something nice but now with less damage to our physiques attached. However, is the conversion of something that has historically been the epitome of poor health a wonderful addition to the world gone mad with health and fitness then?

This revised chocolate bar, from one of the biggest brands on the market, seems to emphasize something far more significant that is indicative of how we now think and live our work, rest and play in a modern world flooded by productivity and performativity. Whilst reticent of the general shifts towards healthiness in our consumption practices, it also carries Mars’ heritage of a treat, at the upper limits of acceptability and enjoyment. This further diversification from Mars seems a step too far.

We are no longer considering the “pleasure we can’t measure” but with this latest invention we now “measure every bit of our pleasure”. Undoubtedly with products like these that will continue to market – we will make a conscious decision on whether we consume such based on their macronutrients and our perceptions of their pleasure rating. Of course, consuming responsibly and in moderation is indeed part and parcel of the modern health agenda, but now the moderate part of moderation seems to be lost. Perhaps within this responsibility we have the responsibility to let ourselves go with an uncalculated treat? Otherwise it now appears we work at our rest and play, and we likely even do that during brief interludes during our working days, all of the time.

As the festive season with all its calorific demands looms upon us, consider your choices wisely.

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