Skittles bravely lets social media take over the homepage, redefines branding

skittles01On 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.

skittles02But 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:

Skittles Cozies Up to Social Media – WSJ

Marketers Praise Skittles’ Gutsy Site Move – MediaPost

New Skittles Site Has More Than a Flavor of Modernista – ClickZ

Skittles: the cause of all world evil or just clever marketing? – TechCrunch

Modernista! – interactive ad agency that launched a similar home page in March 2008

Comments

  1. On the other hand, here is a different point of view (caution: some bad language is repeated from the Skittles Tweets).
    http://www.badidea.co.uk/2009/03/skittles-twitter-campaign-turns-into-potty-mouthed-echo-chamber/

  2. Charlene -
    Thanks for the mention of justSignal. We are working hard to create positive Social Media experiences for users and brands. I really think that context matters… and by tuning the Signal to just the context powerful results can be achieved. For example, the average time spend on one of our Trackers is 9 minutes. There are very few things that can generate that kind of time on page and interaction with content.
    Steve – We understand people are concerned about exactly the point made in that post. That is why we will be offering a “dirty word filter” – we won’t suppress the tweet, we just cover over the dirty words. Yet another reason that just iFraming search.twitter.com into your site is a very bad idea.
    Thanks!
    Brian Roy – justSignal

  3. Charlene,
    brave move for sure, and it definitely created a lot of buzz in the few days following the launch, but it would be important to revisit this idea/concept a month or two from now and see what the conversation is like (if there is one). My question is not around ROI but what will skittles look like a month from now. any ideas?

  4. Patrick Boegel says:

    Regarding the language, this is all an evolution, the openess of most of the social networking platforms are taking us further and further away from the horribly lacking in humanity chat forums of the early days of interactive conversation.
    I for one no longer want to talk to people who do not identify themselves, and then when they do if they insist on being below the line it is a fair signal to me that it is not someone I wish to “socialize” with. Just as brands need to be careful, so do people. The old theory screaming FIRE in a crowded theater still applies. Writing something horribly vulgar in your Twitter feed regarding Skittles may seem really catchy, but in the end that is a tatoo of your social currency.

  5. Good Q – they will have either stuck with the new strategy or gone back to a more traditional one with navigation to those specific social media pages. I don’t think moving social media off the home page will mean “defeat” — rather, that they didn’t find it met their specific internal goals.

  6. That is an EXCELLENT point. I think it’s more a poor reflection of the people who do these things than on Skittles. It will continue to happen, continue to fascinate, and generate conversation for Skittles, which is what they want.

  7. Harry Thomas says:

    Given today’s economic reality, are we confusing “buzz” with “sales”? Just because thousands of people have become your friend on Facebook, how does that translate into more revenue (particularly when your largest user group is probably 8 or 9 years old)? It might have been more interesting if they had done some kind of A/B testing to see how much “conversation” drove people to the candy aisle(maybe a coupon code in Social Media and one on the package itself).
    Until marketers can demonstrate that “noise” translates to sales, it seems that programs like this are just designed to show how “cool” the brand manager or the agency are.

  8. The Skittles site is a prime example of what not to do with your brand. Skittles is a candy. Kids eat candy. Kids aren’t part of the site!
    It’s a great idea to try cool new things (this isn’t one) with a brand once the basics are covered. On this site, they’re not.
    I never ate Skittles. I look at this site and I have no idea what they taste like or why I should buy them.
    it’s all form and no substance IMO

  9. I’m really sorry (because I admire a lot of yoru work) but I completely disagree. The bad language was utterly predictable and failure to plan for it is a dereliction of duty from a brand aimed, let’s not forget, at kids.
    However, over & above that, I’m afraid that, no matter how many times people may claim otherwise, this is a stunt & nothing more. It adds nothing to the consumer experience, provides no entertainment, utility or engagement: broadcasting a ‘conversation’ (an utterly meaningless statement to start with) doesn’t add to that ‘conversation’.
    They may have ‘let go’ but that isn’t a good thing in & of itself. This site is the branding equivalent of a Pontius Pilate – we’ve let go, we don’t need to be creative anymore.
    And look at the Twitter feed – it’s still just people within the marketing world talking about it. Skittles are talking to an echo of a reflection. The sooner we all stop talking about it, the sooner we can start praising brands who are actually doing something interesting, rather than just standing round like magpies admiring something simply because it’s ‘new’ (except of course that it’s not even that)

  10. Charlene -
    Great post. thanks for pulling together some quotes and resources. I love what Skittles did personally. i now that only time will tell if the campaign was successful or if this strategy is one that others should adopt, but i give Mars credit for being bold, transparent and open to new things. being the 1st big brand to do something like this gives them a ton of credit in my mind.
    I talked a bit about how Nonprofits can learn from this here: http://tinyurl.com/dctqt5
    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  11. I am kind of torn on the Skittles thing:
    1. I love that they are embracing Social Media this way. It’s bold, it’s smart, and they are decades ahead of everyone else. I have to tip my hat to the Skittles team.
    2. Most of it still seems like a stunt to generate buzz, and the relevance of all Social Media as they relate to community building may suffer as a result.
    Granted, their Facebook community is solid. No question. But everything else seems a little… thin. What were people really talking about on Twitter two weeks ago? How delicious Skittles are? Or the fact that Skittles was on Twitter?
    My question here is twofold: a) Is the Skittles brand really so awesome that a community can truly gather around it, and b) how does this “engagement” really impact the company’s long term sales?
    I just went to the Skittles website and it looks like MySpace threw up all over itself. Even as users build their own Skittles experience, how sustainable is this?
    I don’t know… This reminds me of the ad agencies that highjacked WOMM a few years ago and made word-of-mouth about their ads and campaigns rather than their clients’ products and brands. In other words, right tools but wrong execution.
    Whenever I see new tools and concepts used in a non sustainable way, I can’t help but cringe a little.
    I really don’t want to say anything negative about what Skittles is doing, but I want to exercise caution here: Just because the Skittles team has boldly jumped into Social Media doesn’t mean that they are doing it right. Unless the engagement is sustainable and it all somehow increases sales, all we are looking at is just noise. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. ;)
    Great post and comments.

  12. Agreed that the bad language is just horrible. But any type of filter was just going to invite people to do misspellings to get around it, and make it worse.
    If you take a look at it now, it’s settled into more regular norm, where the conversation around Skittles is much more normal, not so much people testing out the service.