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For Necco, a different kind of ‘Sweethearts’

Jack Evans and George Harris of Dallas, Texas, together for 55 years, are celebrating their first Valentine's Day as a married couple. They are featuring in a new online Necco ad campaign for Sweethearts candies. Hill Holliday

The ad, for Necco Sweethearts candy, features two 80-something men on a couch, plucking conversation hearts out of a box as they discuss their 55 years together.

How a newly married gay couple from Texas became the spokesmen for an iconic New England brand involves a one-of-a-kind convergence of history, romance and candy — 150 years’ worth of tiny, heart-shaped confections.

With the anniversary approaching, the New England Confectionery Co., (Necco) based in Revere, hired Boston’s Hill Holliday to create a digital ad campaign inviting people to share their love stories.

All roads lead to Valentine’s Day for Sweethearts, and a member of Hill Holliday’s creative team, Steve Callan, quickly realized that this will be the first Valentine’s Day in history in which all couples, gay or straight, across the United States are allowed to be married.


Team members read news reports about the two Texans, Jack Evans and George Harris — the first same-sex couple to get married in Dallas on the day the Supreme Court decision was announced last June — and they knew they had found the perfect way to introduce the campaign.

Hill Holliday sent a three-person crew to the couple’s home and filmed them talking about how they met, in 1961, and what they meant to each other. “If he’s not there I can’t go to sleep. If he’s not around, I don’t know what to do,” said Evans, 86, sitting on the couch next to Harris.

“I know when I met Jack that was who I was looking for, that I had spent all my life looking for,” said Harris, 82.

“They were naturals,” Rick McHugh, creative director at Hill Holliday said.

The video went up online in late December, as part of a campaign inviting people to share their love stories for a chance to win $5,000. It has generated 50,000 views on YouTube, as well as nearly 2,000 story submissions to the website and counting.


Sweethearts fly off shelves only a few weeks a year, but with 2.5 billion hearts sold annually they are one Necco’s hottest candies. The company has worked to keep them current, in recent years, putting out a line of sour candies, launching a Twitter #tweethearts campaign, and, in 2009,partnering with the “Twilight” movie franchise on vampire-themed messages.

Having a gay couple as the face of the brand is perhaps more controversial, but chief executive Michael McGee considers Jack and George a “sweet, innocent story” at a time when same-sex marriage has become widely accepted.

Indeed, this is the moment that advertisers will get the most out of featuring gay families, said Boston University advertising professor Edward Boches.

“It’s a bandwagon that everyone can jump on now because it’s legal, but it’s still fresh enough that it’s going to generate buzz,” Boches said, noting that dozens of companies had “a rainbow version of something” online the day after the Supreme Court decision. “Brands want to be part of the cultural conversation. They want to appear to be topical, but they play it safe.”

A number of currentads also feature gay couples, including spots for MassMutual and the car company Mini USA.

For the stars of the Necco ad, the seven months since they wed have been a whirlwind, with many media appearances and a letter from President Obama. “Would you believe at our age that we had to go out and get an agent?” Harris said.


The Sweethearts spot came with a sugary bonus: six cases of Necco candy, which they hand out wherever they go. On Valentine’s Day, their first as a married couple, they will celebrate at a rotating restaurant overlooking Dallas.

And yes, they’ll be armed with plenty of Sweethearts.

Watch the ad:

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.