Commentary

Why Skittles Killed Its Web Site

When I was six years old, I wrote my first letter to a company when a box of Rice Krispies didn't contain a pack of Rain-Blo bubble gum as advertised (I received a letter back, with two packs of gum). Many more letters followed over the years, from when I discovered the Magnetic Doodle Balls game had only 91 balls instead of the promised "over 100," to when, at age 16, I noticed a version of Broderbund's Print Shop software only represented African Americans as jazz musicians and tribal warriors. It's a hobby I still revive on occasion, while sometimes adapting it to new communication channels -- as with my recent PowerPoint photo essay on a horrible Las Vegas hotel experience.

Today, when contacting a company, the first place I'd likely turn is its Web site. I'm saying that tentatively, as Skittles makes me wonder if corporate Web sites will be around much longer. The company's new site seems to herald the fact that the corporate site is nearing its expiration date.

advertisement

advertisement

Go to  Skittles.com, which relaunched yesterday, and you'll see very little branded content. All that's branded is a small box the size of an average widget hovering over the top-left of the page. The background, which takes up most of the screen, is a live feed from Twitter Search showing results for the term "Skittles." Tweet a link to this column and mention the word Skittles, and you'll soon see that link appear on Skittles.com (let me know too; I'm @dberkowitz ).

Here's the message Skittles is sending: What consumers say about the brand is more important than what the brand has to say to consumers.

Skittles.com isn't exactly a top destination online. Compete, Quantcast and Google Trends respectively report the most recent month's Skittles.com unique visitors as 18,000, 15,000, and too few to track. To paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, Skittles.com's just another word for nothin' left to lose.

By just about any rational indication, Skittles went too far. Highlighting Twitter Search in particular seems absurd, especially since Twitter tends to skew older relative to other social media properties, and Skittles seems to target a younger audience. I came home and showed Skittles.com to my wife. Her first reaction, before I even told her why I was showing it to her, was, "That's it?" Then she added, "What happens if you don't care about Twitter or don't know about Twitter? It seems like it's only for people who are really technical. I just wouldn't care."

But why would anyone care about what Skittles has to say? What, pray tell, could Skittles ever say that was so important, unless we woke up one day to find out that eating Skittles is the world's tastiest cancer cure, or alternatively that Skittles lower men's sperm count. Then, perhaps, the world will listen.

Consider the alternative. On Facebook, Skittles has nearly 600,000 fans. In other words, Skittles has over 30 times the number of fans on Facebook than it has monthly visitors to its site by the most generous estimate. It's little wonder that one of the six tabs on Skittles.com links to its Facebook Page, in the same way as it does for Twitter Search with the official mini-site as an overlay. The Media tab links to Flickr and YouTube and unearths some interesting brand research; a good number of the photos on Flickr seem to be of pets named Skittles. Maybe Skittles.com should add another tab linking to pet social networks Dogster and Catster.

There are risks to what Skittles is doing, the biggest of which is a brand hijack. When I checked earlier yesterday, someone wrote, "Skittles suck! Skittles suck! Skittles suck! #skittles". When I checked later, it devolved further, with several posts including "Skittles" and the word "gay" written repeatedly, along with "Skittles" paired with a derogatory term for African Americans. Other posts were nonsensical or irrelevant, such as when an Ohio man named Nathan wrote, "Funny. Skittles was the name of the twinkie that was hitting on me Saturday night (because I was in the kilt)."

Most brands don't need to scrap their sites. Brands are allowed to control their own spot on the Web and offer something of value to their visitors best as they can. If they do highlight their social media presence, it should fit as part of a more coherent strategy. Otherwise, they'll have to face people like my wife, who will wonder what else there is and why they should care.

Praise Skittles for making a statement, though. Through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia, it can reach far more people than it can through Skittles.com. Skittles still needs Skittles.com, if for nothing else than controlling its own domain and posting some nutritional facts and contact information for the handful of people who need it. Yet its social media strategy is a mess. While Skittles.com is dominated by Twitter Search,  twitter.com/skittles has one follower, three updates, and is run by Sara -- who appears to be a cat.

16 comments about "Why Skittles Killed Its Web Site".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. David Berkowitz from MRY, March 3, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

    Things change fast. Today Skittles still as Twitter Search in its Chatter Tab but it defaults to the Facebook Page, which is a bit safer as far as the user-generated content is concerned.

  2. Joe Strupek from State Farm, March 3, 2009 at 2:22 p.m.

    Skittles killed its web site, but Skittles also learned a lesson, that we all need to learn from.

    http://mashable.com/2009/03/03/skittles-switchesto-facebook/

  3. Todd Havens from The Visionaire Group, March 3, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

    Very fun post, David, that reflected a lot of my own thoughts.

    In terms of them (not) knowing their audience, as you suggest...I'm all over Twitter, but haven't sought out a bag of Skittles since I started paying my own dental bills. (Not that I'm implying a cause-effect link there, of course.)

    Skittles.com isn't a destination site, per se, although I can see why Facebook would have so many fans. I'd click as a fan as a way of self-expression before I'd seek out their site. Maybe Skittles.com needs to run youth-oriented contests...pair up with some gaming sites...y'know, whatever the kids are into these days. :)

    I like that they took such a chance with it. No harm, no foul. Think they should rein in the brand a bit, though.

  4. Peter Schankowitz from Joe Digital, Inc., March 3, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.

    Great post. It shows that while opening things up for co-branding is a step forward, doing so without protecting your brand is many steps back. As the post notes, the site is devoid of any branded content. By not setting the bar or having its say about its own brand, that leaves the brand more acutely vulnerable to the nonsense. Perhaps a richer push toward content that carries the Skittles brand would imrpove their chances of being able to take advantage of the brave connection with the users. As you note, people don't care what Skittles has to say---unless of course the brand were to offer something of real value to anyone bothering to listen. If they create a "why" factor and deliver, my guess is that the tone of the user input would be a bit different.

  5. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, March 3, 2009 at 2:41 p.m.

    David,
    I think you completely missed the point.

    POOR execution
    POOR planning
    POOR ADVICE

    #1 i am a fan of skittles on FB.. i don't need to go to their website.. if they posted recipes i would go to their website.. for coupons, i will go to their website, where someone could do analytics on coupon downloads which you can't do on FB. (well u can, actually but u get the idea..) . NEVER EVER put your brand in the hands of the public at midnight... bad idea.

    Whomever decided to make a bonehead move and put up a live unfiltered chat stream as their home page and age restrict the widget (you could see see f-bombs and n-bombs without age verification).

    Websites will NEVER go away...

    Business that depend on FREE facebook, FREE twitter to serve as their web presence are doomed for failure because there is NO SLA!!!!! (service level agreement)

    Now.. those companies that embrace social media and use sound judgement and experienced PR advisors will go far because all they are doing is funneling prospective customers to their website.

    I'm not going to Praise Skittles for an ill-advised brand catastrophe. BUT... i will use the Skittles example of what NOT to do for all my clients embracing social media... correctly.

  6. Adam Broitman from Kiip, March 3, 2009 at 2:44 p.m.

    Great post David.

    I appreciate you playing Devil's advocate, as most of the press surrounding this launch has been positive.

    In all honesty, I can see both sides of the argument, but one thing that is hard to dispute; this was a great attempt at disruptive interactive marketing on the part of Skittles. Many of us often laugh at the "skip intro/flash" sites that still make up the status quo online. While Skittles may have overshot the mark, they have definitely opened the eyes of many marketers. I am curious to see how well this went over with Skittles target demo.

    My hope for the future of this approach is that it is treated as an experiment, and that the presentation layer is fine tuned fairly rapidly until some middle ground is found (which we have already seen in the switch from Twitter to Facebook as the landing page).

    Ultimately I don't think this is the correct approach, but I do think that the fundamental thinking behind it is headed in the right direction.

  7. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, March 3, 2009 at 2:47 p.m.

    yep called it yesterday at 3pm that it wouldn't last long

    http://deancollinsblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/skittles.html

  8. Craig Peters, March 3, 2009 at 3:02 p.m.

    In the short term, someone drops an F-bomb or an N-bomb on Twitter and someone else sees it. Big F-bomb deal. The Web is lousy with links to news footage of naked guys buying Skittles and recipes for Skittles vodka; that's any better (or worse) for the brand as a whole?

    In the short term, people are talking about Skittles a hell of a lot more than they're talking about [insert favorite candy here] ... which is undoubtedly what everyone was hoping would happen. The worst case scenario for Skittles would have been if this effort had gone ignored.

    In the long term, Skittles gets big points for conducting a social media experiment and comes off as a bleeding-edge brand marketer willing to put its name into the hands of the public -- which is, after all, Cluetrain 101, so for that alone I have to take my hat off to Skittles.

    I see all this brouhaha as a net plus for the brand. I wonder if their sales will spike this week.

  9. Gerard Babitts, March 3, 2009 at 3:32 p.m.

    Good article but I'm not sure Skittles really deserves praise for two reasons: (1) This is something they should be doing anyways (social media should be book-one/page-one for all branding strategies and tactics), and (2) their execution was sloppy and not well thought out. This was no more than an elaborate stunt which has gained them attention but I'm not sure how it translates into genuine social media exchanges or helps their brand.

    <a href="http://www.gerardbabitts.com/2009/03/03/skittles-taste-the-failbow/">Skittles: Taste The Failbow</a>

  10. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, March 3, 2009 at 4:03 p.m.

    The corporate website is not dead. Uses of social media will not progress in a predictable, straight line. Nothing in the online or information technology world can be reliably fathomed more than a year or so out, because so many creative people are bringing in ideas from so many different perspectives.

    So, use of websites, social marketing and other tools will shift, especially as consumers' tastes change. And those consumers will be curious for different things.

  11. Mike Spring from Voice Coaches, March 3, 2009 at 4:42 p.m.

    Interesting how many negative comnents there are on Skittles' new strategy. Personally, I think it's kind of cool: bold, different, somewhat unique. If they're not getting any site visitors anyway, why not try and shake it up? It's all anyone's been talking about online for the past two days. And I did see a co-worker eating a bag of skittles today. Coincidence?

  12. Lee Odden from TopRank Marketing, March 3, 2009 at 4:47 p.m.

    As always, highly entertaining and insightful David.

    Regarding the death of corporate web sites, it's interesting to note that in our recent survey on digital marketing tactics (532 respondents) that corporate web sites did not rate in the top ten of 45 tactics listed.

    Survey results here: http://cli.gs/jvJJzJ

    Of the top ten tactics selected, 6 were in the social media category. I agree with Henry that the expanding use of social media will not follow linear growth, but interest levels on the part of both consumers and brands makes it imperative to understand and evaluate.

  13. Kory Kredit from Connection Point Interactive, March 3, 2009 at 5:03 p.m.

    Great column David. While I don't agree completely with their strategy from a marketing perspective, it is probably safe to say that this has generated more online buzz than anything Skittles have ever done. It has helped drive brand awareness and made a small nugget of colored sugar relevant in social media which is impressive...but is it sustainable? I have my doubts about that.

  14. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, March 3, 2009 at 5:07 p.m.

    also.. what does this have to do with search marketing? shouldn't it be in social media?

  15. Deb Wiseman from Consultant, March 3, 2009 at 5:32 p.m.

    Skittles has nutritional facts?! Ha. Very funny!

  16. Joao-pierre Ruth from NJBIZ, March 3, 2009 at 5:41 p.m.

    Is this the shape of things to come? When a new platform/medium seems hot, there is always a mad dash to abandon old formats.

    But given time, more rational thinking takes over. Slowly, tangible business models will emerge.

Next story loading loading..