Why Skittles Killed Its Website

HDR image of Skittles.Image via Wikipedia

Here's today's column, originally from MediaPost:

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.

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.


Between writing this column and its publication less than 24 hours later, Skittles apparently got skittish over the user-generated content on its homepage and set the default background to its Facebook Page. Still, the Twitter Search feed is live under the Chatter tab.

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2 thoughts on “Why Skittles Killed Its Website

  1. i don’t think Skittles got skittish at all. They’re simply showing off how “interwebbed” they are. which is why they’ve switched from facebook to wikipedia now. not sure how well that communicates, but the title of the page since the beginning of this stunt was “interweb the rainbow” not “tweet the rainbow”.
    twitter was a good place to start because it got people actually talking, echo chamber or not.

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