On Monday, Skittles changed it’s home page over to emphasis social media, specifically a Twitter search for “skittles”. I’ve included a screenshot of it (click on it to see it full size). The result: “#skittles” was the top trending topic on Twitter on Monday, and actually took Twitter down as the buzz spread. Skittles did a great job at dominating the Twitter conversation, especially for a candy.
On Tuesday, the home page shifted to highlight Skittle’s Facebook page. It will likely shift around to the other social media channels highlighted in the floating control panel, including the Skittles YouTube, Flickr, and back to the Twitter Search results.
According to an excellent article in ClickZ, the goal of the new home page is to let people do the marketing for Skittles. Ryan Bowling, a spokesperson for the MARS (the parent company of Skittles) said,
“In this day and age, where the consumer is extremely influential, the content for our Web site is really based off consumer chatter and beliefs about our brand.”
Bowling noted that directing Skittles.com visitors to social networking sites allows visitors to find out what people, not MARS, think about the candy.
“When you hit the ‘product’ button on a typical Web site, it usually takes you to an information page. Now, instead of us telling it, the consumers are telling what the product is about.”
In an interview with the WSJ, I said that this approach is redefining the way marketers and consumers think about brands. A brand strategy used to be carefully crafted, tested, and distributed through bought media. While this is still relevant, Skittles is acknowledging that the brand is most often experienced by what people do and say around it…so why not highlight that brand message?
Granted, early in the day on Monday, it appeared that Skittles had lost not only control of their brand, but also of their mind. That’s because early attention focused on the profanity that people were inserting into the Twitter stream and have it appear on skittles.com, primarily because they could. David Armano discusses this and also has screenshots in his Skittles.com blog post. Brand marketers shook their heads and wondered how this could possibly help enhance the Skittles brand.
Also chiming in were the social media watchers, many of them deeming the Skittles home page “move” to be shallow, temporary, and a cheap trick that was designed to build buzz for a day. Well, it most certainly did build buzz, and continues to intrigue people.
But Skittles is not shallow about their social media efforts. I’ve been watching what Skittles has been doing on Facebook for the past year (they have had the page up since summer of 2007). They are one of the few brands on Facebook who actively engage visitors in a conversation. Check out Skittle’s Wall where the “person” Skittles has an edgy personality in keeping with the brand.
Skittles is not a brand that shirks from social media — it embraces it. And what is so fascinating to me is that this isn’t happening in a far corner of the brand, lead by a lone social media evangelist, but front and center on its home page.
The brand managers are secure enough in their relationship with customers and also in their brand to let go of control. In fact, they recognize that they never really were in control of the brand. So why not let it go completely?
This is not the first time that brands of done this. A year ago, interactive ad agency Modernista! pioneered the strategy, showing related pages from Wikipedia and Facebook. Zappos has long had a twitter “channel” at twitter.zappos.com that shows tweets mentioning Zappos as well as the tweets of Zappos employees. And sites are using justSignal’s Tracker like Peter Himmelmann’s Furious World, Ustream, NBA Phoenix Sun’s suntweets, and ushealthcrisis.com aggregate tweets for specific keywords.
But Skittles is the first major consumer products brand to really, truly let go of the traditional brand baggage. They retain some branding presence with the floating dock, but they have realized the new truth of branding in the brave new world of social media — that your customers own your brand. Skeptics will dissect this move and dismiss it as a PR ploy. Others will wonder about the “ROI” of such a move, which is pretty obvious — it doesn’t cost a lot to do this, and undoubtedly will encourage engagement and top of mind awareness, which will eventually drive more sales.
My hunch is that more brands will start doing this, although not in so dramatic a fashion. Most will inch into letting social media on to their corporate presence, as they will still be reluctant to let go of control. But the sooner they do, the sooner they will realize the power that comes with showcasing the engagement of customers with their brands.
Related articles and sites:
Marketers Praise Skittles’ Gutsy Site Move – MediaPost
Modernista! – interactive ad agency that launched a similar home page in March 2008