Why Skittles.com is a game changer for marketers

04Jun09

Back in March, confectionery brand Skittles changed its homepage so that visitors were taken to a Twitter search page to see what was being said about the brand. Within hours, the project had been hijacked, leading to all kinds of negative tweets appearing on the company’s homepage including “#skittles got stuck in my mouth while driving. forced me to slam into an orphanage, killing hundreds, i’ll never eat them again.” While the hijack was somewhat predictable, Skittles’ decision to continue this transparency with Facebook, YouTube and Flickr has seen them ride out the storm and launch what is perhaps the most game changing home page to hit the web.

skittles

Visitors to Skittles.comare invited to “Interweb the rainbow”, which basically means “see what’s going on in the world of Skittles all over the web”. You can see chatter on Twitter, photos and videos on Flickr and YouTube, and product information from Wikipedia. “Isn’t this cool?” say social media people everywhere… well yes, it is. But why?

1. They don’t ask you to visit the factory
In Feb 2008, at  a Chinwag discussion on measuring social media, it became clear that deciding just what to measure was one of the biggest issues, and safe to say, that’s not changed. Danielle West, then at analytics firm Nedstat, highlighted the ability to track user engagement on a company’s homepage, whereas Will McInnes, one half of Nixon McInnes spoke much more about engagement, conversation and content.

Of course Nedstat is going to say that the aim of social media marketing is to drive traffic to your own website which you can analyse later, and it seems that every online campaign must have its own microsite these days. For brands selling to consumers, I find this a very strange mindset to have. From a sales point of view, a confectionery company shouldn’t care if you buy one of their products in a supermarket, a petrol station or in a vending machine, what matters is the purchase. It would be insane to suggest that you have to go to factory to buy the sweets. In a similar vein, Skittles is suggesting that they don’t care where you interact with the brand, they don’t care if you don’t visit Skittles.com – in fact, if you do, you won’t find much that you can’t find anywhere else on the web. What matters to them is that you engage with the brand somewhere.

The marketing goal of “driving traffic to our microsite” is equivalent to “getting people to the factory”. Which reminds me of the story of an elderly couple driving nearly 100 miles from Portsmouth to BBC Thames Valley Radio following an advert asking them to visit the BBC website. They thought it was an actual building. That’s a little off the point, but talks to a principle that Skittles is following: Don’t use social media to interrupt and usher people around the web. Brands engaging with internet users should bear in mind the fact that 99.9% of the time, we’re online to do something which isn’t look at your website. I think Skittles gets it and it’s this that makes its website a huge game changer for marketers who have seen website traffic as one of their key goals.

2. The decision has buy in from the top
This is more of a supposition than going off actual evidence, however, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no way that this would have got signed off without some serious muscle at Wrigley getting involved. There are a growing number of marketers who understand and embrace the fact that social media makes organisations pourous – with information being communicated to and from the entirety of the business, not just from a single, centrally controlled outlet. However, move closer to the centre of the business and that enthusiasm is generally not as prevalent.

The social web doesn’t just impact how organisations should communicate, it impacts how they do everything. HR – should know about and engage with employee Facebook groups, product development teams should be listening to demands and complaints from current users in all kinds of online forums, tech support should be monitoring twitter for any issues arising. Of course, some of these boxes are being ticked, but I can’t help but think that for the most part, this is a bottom up movement – driven by communications and customer service departments. While “Interweb the Rainbow” may have come from marketing, but there’s no doubt that sign-off came from the real business decision makers. It’s always been a marketers job to educate CEOs on why this is a good idea, and with Skittles being an example that would take most board members way outside of their comfort zones, this is a hard sell, but one that must be made.

3. They want you to listen to your peers
Sending visitors to other parts of the web is acknowleding the concept that “Your brand is what Google says about you.” It’s giving creedence to the fact that web users don’t just take your word as gospel. With millions of viewpoints and opinions just a simple search away, Skittles is bypassing that step by leading people straight to the opinion. Plenty of conversations and meetings this year have paid lip service to transparency, but surely this is the genuine article. There’s even a disclaimer on the front page which notes that there is external content available, over which, Skittles has no control. Gutsy, very gutsy, but a move that signifies a huge shift in direction and understanding for marketers everywhere.

…So after the hype and knee-jerk reactions have died down, Interweb the Rainbow is still running relatively smoothly. The site looks good and you get can navigate the pages in the same way that you’d navigate social media platforms normally. But it’s the principles behind the site that really make a difference and should have marketers sitting up in their seats, thinking about how it affects their brands.

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One Response to “Why Skittles.com is a game changer for marketers”

  1. I agree with your thoughts that, particularly for a brand like Skittles, if you don’t have content to deliver on the Web page, why not provide a venue for conversation about the brand?

    Ultimately though, I feel Skittles has fallen short of the mark. It’s not that people can see the negative comments, but because they’re not contributing to the online conversation with anything but a new conversation monitor. The “Buzz” they generate is purely about being able to do what you already can do with a simple search – but with the added step of going to the Skittles site. Therefore, traffic to their site is more for novelty purposes rather than brand engagement. If you’re trying to drive conversation, return visitors is the metric, not unique visitors.

    I think this is just one in a million experiments going on with the phenomenon that is social media, and, while it’s bold, I wouldn’t call it successful. They don’t really push the envelope – they put a fancy stamp on the envelope and call it new media.



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