Skittles' Kool-Aid Overdose

When Skittlesturned its brand over to the great unwashed masses by replacing its home page with a live Twitter feed, the move got a lot of attention. it was the same sort of attention that Seth Godin once joked about when asked how to allocate a $10 million advertising budget for the launch of a new product: "Take $8 million out to the parking lot and set it on fire. You'll get more media attention than you can buy with that kind of money -- and you will have saved $2 million."

After the Twittersphere went hyperbolic about the Skittles home page and there were more Skittles tweets than could be counted, the unwashed masses started tweeting things that should have gotten their keyboards washed out with soap. Skittles was forced to pull the plug.

Curiously, this approach continues to work very well for Econsultancy. Several weeks ago, this mega-content-rich, UK-based, Web site, all about online commerce, put a live Twitter feed on its home page showing a handful of real-time tweets. The response was overwhelmingly positive and remains so.

So why did these two experiments get such different results?

Econsultancy's business is its Web site. Econsultancy customers are Internet-savvy and interested in protecting their image while projecting it in public. In contrast, Skittles customers are little boys and girls (of all ages) who are doing things online that their parents neither monitor nor understand. Skittles is a traditional, one-way advertiser that did a cannon ball into the unknown waters of the social media lake. Econsultancy merely swam out a little further into the community lake its strategists have been successfully swimming in for years.

GM Trucks let people slice and dice its video ads, with insulting results.

Skittles drank the Kool-Aid, gave up all other nutrition and OD'd. Econsultancy tasted the Kool-Aid and found it to be refreshing in proper quantities. Today, the Skittles home page is merely its Facebook fan page -- where they have some control. I have a feeling even that won't last long. Econsultancy has recently announced opening an office in New York with Rebecca Lieb at the helm. I have a feeling they are going to do very well.

The lessons?

-- Know thy customer.

-- Know thy brand.

-- Embrace both.

-- Share control.

-- Be part of the conversation -- don't abdicate.

11 comments about "Skittles' Kool-Aid Overdose".
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  1. Hugh Simpson from WOW! Presentation, March 6, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.

    My last report said they had decided to go to Wikipeida as their front/home page.

    They sure are getting the same attention as burining $8,000,000 up in a parking lot would get especially today!

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 6, 2009 at 3:25 p.m.

    Great parallel to the Seth Godin quote. You'll get a lot more attention, none of it the right kind, none of it by the right people. Besides letting the brand conversation get taken over, Skittles let it get taken over by the wrong people.

  3. Kevin Horne from Verizon, March 6, 2009 at 3:27 p.m.

    My vote is with Jim on this one. Whether it is Wiki today or Facebook tomorrow or Second Life (hee hee) next Monday, the plug is IN THE PROCESS of being pulled. Give it a couple more weeks for the pulling to be complete (@Shel).

    Moral of the story:
    - Brands are built on dialog, not one-way conversation.
    - The consumer is in control if you abdicate control. Otherwise, the consumer is not in control.
    - Too big a hit off the social-media bong is not good for your brand.

  4. Bill Young from Electronic Arts, March 6, 2009 at 3:32 p.m.

    I agree with Shel here - Skittles found a way to stand out in the noisiest landscape in history ("Abdication" is a bit strong, no?). The vandals/taggers will get bored and move on...and the audience will begin to define itself. I applaud skittles, and anyone who was involved in the creation of this site - to those folks i say: expect imitators, and accept it as confirmation.

  5. Gerard Mclean from Rivershark, Inc., March 6, 2009 at 3:40 p.m.

    @Shel Exactly. The people who are on Twitter now making a mess with their keyboards are the same sort of folks who jump up and down in front of a tv camera, waving "Hi mom!" They get tired and bored when nobody pays attention to them. Skittles just needs to ignore them and then only the skits will be on twits.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 6, 2009 at 4:37 p.m.

    Isn't there a park around that needs some volunteer trash picker uppers? Maybe some kids who need some mentoring?You are spending all this time being twits about some candy than you really have too much time on your hands.

  7. Doug Vanisky from ADDB, March 6, 2009 at 7:55 p.m.

    Here's the thing, there were likely (hopefully) strategic considerations behind this. First, you get the Twitterverse going nuts. Free buzz. Second, there's an old SEO strategy where you develop an unbranded page to drive links to, then pull the plug on that page and replace it will a branded page. I wouldn't be surprised if we see that home page replaced with a branded page in coming weeks. You never would have generated so many links to that home page with a branded page.

    From the perspective of raising web visibility, this was a genius move. Check out the Alexa rankings for and the huge spike they had in rank and traffic.

  8. Jim Sterne from Target Marketing, March 6, 2009 at 11:26 p.m.

    Michael - I'm very high on Econsultancy for doing the same thing as Skittles with a different audience in a very different way. My point was that Twitter does have value and Kool-Aid is refreshing. Too much of a good thing is ... too much. Being the first to do something too much is still too much.

    Bill - Finding a way to stand out that damages your brand is not good for business. It's noisy - yes. They drove a lot of traffic to their site - yes. But quick show of hands - how many of us went out and bought a package of Skittles? Thought so.

    Kevin - Thanks. And don't bogart that social-media bong Small hits are delicious..

    Shel - Cycling the home page to include Twitter was not wise. You said, "...what you'll find is whatever genuine conversation about the candy (which I don't expect to be substantial) is taking place." I don't expect it to be substantial either, but if it's genuine, it's very good. Take a peek at <a href="">Snickers Tweets</a>. Genuine and mostly positive. I think you're onto something here Shel.

    Doug - That may be brilliant tactical thinking but from a strategy perspective, it ain't sellin' Skittles. You may have loved Subservient Chicken but did it drive sales? And quick - who besides marketing people can name the brand?

    Paula - I'm headed for the park to pick up candy wrappers.

  9. Bill Young from Electronic Arts, March 7, 2009 at 9:30 p.m.

    Jim - I appreciate the debate on whether or not this site was appropriate for Skittles, and especially whether or not this clever tact will wind up proving successful or not. That said, your response to my post is a little dismissive and assumptive, no?

    "But quick show of hands - how many of us went out and bought a package of Skittles? Thought so." -JS

    How about we let the campaign run its course, and let them do their post mortem before judging whether or not it sold product?

  10. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, March 9, 2009 at 2:21 p.m.

    this took me less than 30 minutes..

    click on the #skittlez links.

  11. Doug Vanisky from ADDB, March 10, 2009 at 12:56 p.m.

    Hey Jim, I appreciate your insight on the branding of Subservient Chicken, but I'm forced to disagree with your point.

    These are two very different executions. Subservient Chicken was really nothing more than a modern spin on Leisure Suit Larry and other user directed narrative games of the 80s. It was also a very siloed and singular experience. Sure, it was viral because it was emailed/shared, but people interacted with it either alone or in very small groups.

    The Skittles campaign is different. There was a massive audience talking about it, and whether naughty or nice, also engaging with it.

    Neither site had a DR call to action (that I know of), so without reading the briefs, we have to assume the point of both was to drive brand awareness. From that perspective, Skittles would probably be the more successful execution: for the branding reason you mentioned, and also due to the intensity and the number of people involved in the conversation about it.

    I would imagine that among their typical demographics, more people will buy Skittles because of this campaign than there were people who decided to eat at Burger King because of a dancing chicken.

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