Did Skittles scuttle its brand? Time will tell

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skittles2.jpgSo I like Skittles and I think they have some cool advertising. I also applaud their efforts to enter the social media space and I'm philosophically aligned with them (anyone who reads this blog would know that). But I'm not a big fan of what they've done with their website today. If you visit their website, you'll notice that its become widget overlaying their presence on several social platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. Here's why I'm not that impressed.

  1. Users don't expect a Facebook fan page when they visit Skittles.com. It is disorienting. Nor do they expect to be redirected to a twitter search results page or a Wikipedia page.  
  2. Pointing to an unfiltered search results of a twitter keyword is dangerous and if you scan the page you'll see what I mean. Some of the things being said are ugly and alienating. I've had to blur out some of the tweets in my screenshot of the page because they're that bad.
  3. The Twitter audience is not their customer. Focusing on Twitter can be a distraction. This may not apply to the other social platforms but then they should focus on those more directly and leverage them in a way that's in sync with their ethos. Are their customers' influencers on Twitter? I'm not even sure about that.
  4. I want to feel enticed when I visit the Skittles. Seeing a Wikipedia page does not create a craving for me. And I can't imagine it does much for the teens who are Skittle's core customers. 
  5. By pointing to a search results stream, Skittles is not encouraging a conversation. Rather they're just telling us that random people mention Skittle in twitter conversations. Twitter's format doesn't allow you to follow an existing conversation easily making the stream appear gimmicky.
  6. Skittles is fueling voyeurism versus participation. It is a cop out to point me to the conversations. I'd rather the brand and its representatives engage with me and my friends directly maybe through a promotion or something.
  7. All buzz is not good buzz even for a brand like Skittles. Sure, this is creating a lot of buzz but some of it is negative and with the profanity the brand is being damaged too. Skittles needs to be careful.
I'm glad brands are thinking more seriously about the social web and where their customers are having conversations and discussing them. And it is also important that they're blurring the lines between their own website and the social web. That's something I've been harping on for a while now. However, it is important for the brands to play in a way that is natural to those social platforms. Simply pointing me to places across the social web is not enough. As someone tweeted me on the subject, I wish they had taken advantage of all the social platform APIs to do something special.

Skittles - here's my challenge to you. Engage with my friends and me on my terms and on my social platforms more directly. Don't just point me to other people's conversations. You're just going to get cheap buzz for a short while this way. I want more from Skittles!

Read Emily Steele's "Skittles Cozies Up to Social Media" article in the Wall Street Journal for more on the subject. I'm quoted in it saying that a lot of false conversations are taking place about Skittles on Twitter.

Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.


Gerry White Author Profile Page said:

When I was working back @ Razorfish I remember discussing this http://www.modernista.com site - it was brave and cool - but it was a new media agency - my feeling is that this is too confusing for half the people who come to the site, I clicked a few times before I got bored. However a colleague who I was talking about it with, now wants to buy some skittles... Good exposure though...

Pete Spande said:


Great post. I think the real issue is how Skittles continues the work they started. I look at the comments re Skittles like the beginning of a marathon - everyone is bunched up together. The question is will real threads of conversation arise out of this? The site relaunch felt very much like a stunt. Well timed and well executed but very much for show. Can Skittles create a real connection with customers? If they can, great. If they can't this has minimal long term impact.

Lee said:

Did anyone lese notice that when you load the Twitter page on the new Skittles site that 90% of the postings are spam? Obviously not what they were going for, talk about bad brand identity.

Everything you said is true, yet I find great value in this bold move. It is an acknowledgment that social media and the voice of the consumer is as important (if not more so) than what the brand has to say about itself. Are we not in agreement that the day of brands talking about how great they are is largely over? Certainly, traditional marketing has less effect.

I appreciate the initiative and am less concerned about the execution than the philosophy that drove it. This is a hallmark day, one in which the die has been cast on the future of how brands relate to consumers. It's a collaborative partnership, and that's the way it should be.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for the thoughts. I agree it is a bold move, I just continue to wonder whether it is appropriate. I suspect that the site may change after a few weeks. I wish Skittles would play a role themselves in the conversation. It'll give the whole thing more meaning.

Good post. When I saw this last week, I too was a little perplexed. It definitely stands out as different in approach, strategy and implementation, but I would agree with you about whether or not it's appropriate. Course, I'll hold my full judgement as their Web analytics will be telling, as well as how it potentially moves the needle when it comes to sales or brand equity.

Shiv, nice write up. I've been thinking about this one too. While I agree with a lot of what you posit, I've had some slightly different conclusions.

First, I think it's a good thing for marketers to defy consumer expectations. And there is a boldness to this effort by Skittles that is to be appreciated. I also think that the random, unpredictable, quirky off-the-reservation aspects of their new web model are probably important characteristics that were to be intentionally associated with the brand at an emotional level. In other words I believe the risks were understood and embraced.

This Skittles play, more than any other I've seen from a major consumer brand, tests the boundaries for leveraging social media - and as a result gives all of us (marketers, vendors, agencies, etc) that much more creative space.

From my point of view however this was not so much a social media / social influence strategy - really it's more of a social media levered stunt. With that in mind, I'd call it a successful stunt.

It will be interesting to see if we can gain some insight into how/if seasonally adjusted sales are affected.

Hey Shiv - this time I'm with you 100%...

I actually quite like the Skittles thing. I'm sure it was inexpensive and got a lot of chat going but I suspect it highlights the problems online for fast moving consumer goods.

First - it's a sweet we're talking about here. No one really cares. You see them at point of sale and you buy them. Perhaps a little advertising has taught you they might be for you but at the end of the day we really don't care to get involved with the sweets we eat. Most of us have better things to do. This campaign will only work once.

The average consumer does not separate social media from the rest of the web. Most people don't know they are reading and using blogs even when the are. They use the web because it enhances and facilitates some efficiencies in their life. I can't see how sweets, shampoo, deodorant have anything to offer in this environment. What sad idiot sends time trawling through the Lynx site. You might enter a competition but engage with the brand - mmmm

And finally I suspect that the target market for Skittles is still at school. It's not a collection of social media consultants and advertising agencies. Part of the problem with social media is we end up talking to people just like us and we think we're right. I include myself in this. I had a start reminder last night when I was at a dinner party with friends, middle aged, wired up - downloading, Apple TV, PirateBay, eBay - so not luddites - none of them had any idea what social media was - did not realised Facebook was social media and had no time for the product although they all had accounts. None of them watch TV anymore and none of them would give Skittles or any other consumer FMCG brand the time of day. They would however expect the Skittles site to tell them if the sweets have a certain preservative or colour in them. Sometime consumer marketers forget the web is driven by behaviour and your best opportunity for a good outcome it to forget the Flash animation, social media integration, Facebook groups and just help consumers get what they want.

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