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March 02, 2009

Skittles & Social Media - Obviously a Company that Doesn't Get It

By Li Evans

Via Mashable this morning, I found out that Skittles changed its homepage.  Now, normally this wouldn't be news, no more than launching a new site.  But here's the kicker, they changed their homepage to a Twitter stream about Skittles.

Now, at first glance this may seem really neat, but let's dig underneath the surface here a bit.

  • Does Skittles control the @Skittles account?  Nope!

  • Does Skittles actively participate in discussions on Twitter?  Nope!

  • Does Mars, Inc., its parent company participate on Twitter?  Nope!

Now on the surface, this may seem really cool and hip, using this new trendy service Twitter, in an unusual way.  Heck it's having word of mouth effects - people are talking about this.  Unfortunately in due time this could turn around and create a big PR problem for Skittles & Mars, Inc..


They are just pulling up a stream on Twitter that references people using the word "Skittles" in their tweets.  This leaves the company's home page ripe for Twitter spamming, and worse, for people to make a mockery of the Skittles brand.  In due time this could create a nightmare for Mars, Inc, if people continue to take advantage that their tweets are now on display for a national audience.

For example, take a look at what I caught on this screen capture below (my apologies if this offends anyone, please be forewarned there are offensive words in this screen capture, that is not my intent and that tweet does not reflect my own feelings), or this tweet that appeared as well (again, can be offensive to some).


Skittles doesn't even offer anything into the conversation.  Twitter users know that twitter is about discussions.  They don't even have a Twitter account to hold a conversation - at this juncture in time.  If they did, I'm hard press to find it - and they aren't advertising it.

I'm sure usability folks could have a field day with this latest revamp of the Skittles site too, to replace it with a twitter stream and have a javascript piece follow you down the page for navigation, just begs for a usability expert to rip it to shreds.  Add in the box that demands you agree to their terms, and another annoying box about typing in some URL before you can even navigate off the twitter stream into Skittles other pages, wow, just a nightmare.

This isn't social media folks, seriously, for it to be social media, Skittles has to be engaging in the conversation, and they aren't. If they were truly into social media, they'd have a Twitter account, engage in the conversation, much like @Maggiano's is or @WholeFoods or @Zappos.    What skittles has done has gotten other people to talk about Skittles, at this point in time early in the convo they haven't spoken, so it's all one sided.  Social Media requires a conversation (them talking with people), this, is just basically an electronic billboard on the web that says "look who using the word Skittles!" 

Its a unique billboard I give them that, but that's about it.

One last point, Mars, Inc. should think about, too. Twitter, on a good day, can't handle the traffic it has reliably (it's getting better), so Skittles will be at the mercy of Twitter for its exposure.  I don't know if I'd want to bank my brand's exposure on it like this.


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WOW, that´s strange.Hopefully it was a mistake, because that is not going to do them any good.

I understand that they are not active participants in twitter. It's a pity, because that would make the whole thing feel a bit nicer. However, I think as a bit of fun it's a clever idea.

Think of the TMobile dance, I can't imagine that TMobile were active in the dancing world, or overly avid users of the train station. But the concept/advert was still good!


I just wonder about the longevity of it all! Let's just see how long they leave it up.


agreed with you, interesting idea but they put the cart before the horse. They need to be engaging before this type of web approach can be relevant.

Very valid points, but what kind of content do you think Skittles should have on their homepage?

With the exception of some promotion that might run or contest, CPG sites like this have little utility and little repeat traffic. This type of site is really Skittles way of saying "consumers can generate better content than we can."

I find the new site even with their faults you point out, very compelling.

I think the backlash is unwarranted. They're doing an experiment in Social Media, and learning along the way. Instead of bashing them, people in PR/social media should find ways to positively and constructively educate them

Skittles is CANDY. How often is any large community engaged talking about CANDY? Ummm..that would be, NEVER. The fact that Skittles hasn't engaged the consumer with Twitter or added their perspective to the discussion is irrelevant. It's a sugary sweet gummy chewy thing. What are they going to tell us about - how natural their fruit flavors taste? Once again, it's candy and we're talking about it.

How are you banking a brand's exposure by spending next to nothing and engaging a community that will do the work for you?

It cost them next to nothing to do this and you've posted a story about it and I'm commenting. Skittles is relevant because they are being talked about no matter how the discussion gets redirected.

Success for Skittles - brilliant - not misdirected.


Wow, some of the Twitter comments are really, um, off-color in many ways. That can't be good for their brand at all. What were they thinking? I don't see this as a win at all. Yep, at the end of the day they might have a bunch of traffic and people will this it's "cool/cute/etc." but will it increase sales? I doubt it.

What is even worse when I try going to their site it loads improperly and times out.

A fascinating lesson in how not to do it, though after the Ryanair thing last week, I have to wonder if skittles/mars is better off *not* engaging at all? This flap will, if anything, raise their visibility for a bit, and after the initial spamming of today dies down, they'll ultimately have a genuine feed of the real life references to their product. It's a candy...how much do they *really* need to worry about their online rep? Will the hullablaoo today impact *sales* at all? I doubt it.

@Raul & @Fredsko

The point I'm trying to make is that they are messing with a huge Brand. Have you seen what people are doing with this on the Twitter stream - for example talking about vaginia flavored skittles (http://twitter.com/igotyourcrazy/statuses/1269428265)?

You don't experiment with your front page where kids can see it. Its a candy for kids ... and here we have people talking about things kids shouldn't see.

@fredsko - as for its just candy, what kind of convos they can have. they could do so much, not just take a stream and put it up on their site. If they interacted like Maggiano's has, the word of mouth could spread more positively. this is just bizarre.

As a publicity stunt, this works fairly well. Those of us on Twitter are talking about this today. Later in the week, news stories will appear that incorrectly describe what Skittles has done as 'social media marketing.'

Maybe sometime next week even Ad Age will have an article condemning Skittles for daring to use monies and resources so desperately needed for traditional advertising.

But what happens to the brand tomorrow? Skittles best move will be to revert to their original site before the inevitable backlash/pranks/etc. begin in earnest.

If their goal was publicity, it's a win.

If this is how they view social media engagement, they have missed it entirely.

Did you miss the YouTube, FlickR, Wikipedia, and FaceBook aspect of their new page?

Wow...that's kind of scary. I'm glad to see a lot of the big companies still don't get this. It makes the smaller businesses feel better :)

I couldn't agree more - this entire thing would have gone so much smoother for them if they had just planned ahead better, been part of the conversation before the made the big change.

I used to work for Mars in there Web Hosting Infrastructure Division in the UK a couple of years ago. And I am surprised that this got through.
They, in general have a large checklist for all there sites and has to be signed off by the legal team, etc and by the web hosting team. I personally would have raised a lot of questions about this site (and wonder how the legal team could sign it off!) for the reason the poster said so much scope for abuse.

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