Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Keys to the Candy Shop

Yesterday, I made a late night visit to our freezer in search of ice cream. I found a container of neapolitan—you know, the kind that combines chocolate, vanilla and strawberry in one container. What was left for me was one vertical vein of strawberry. You see, Mrs. Mambo has always preferred chocolate, to the exclusion of other flavors. When we purchase neapolitan ice cream she first strip mines the chocolate. The following day the vanilla will disappear, to be consumed under a sludge of chocolate syrup. All this is fine with me, as I have always been fan of fruit flavors.

Oh, mi amigos! We again try your patience with irrelevant information. But you see, we feel the need to provide you with this background to help you appreciate our excitement over the recent news coverage of Skittles and their very new website. It is a rare and fortunate coincidence when our professional interests and personal failings intersect.

On March 2nd of this year, Mars Corp. launched the new website for Skittles. This “website” was nothing more than a widget, almost a small menu bar, that floated above the Twitter page for Skittles. The menu included links to the Skittles' Facebook page, the Skittles' wikipedia article, the and the Skittles' YouTube channel. And yes, there was a menu item that linked to some information about the candy that was provided by the company.

Many marketers have begun monitoring or managing their brand's buzz on social media. Many have made social interaction a prominent feature of their site. But to our knowledge, was the first site from a major brand that turned the majority of their content over to their friends and foes on the web. We include below an image of the Skittles “site” as it appeared when launched.

We have yet to come across an explanation of the strategy either from the Skittles people or the sites developer, Skittles is a fun brand compared to others, and the brand's marketing target probably overlaps well with the demographics of social media users. We can imagine the conversation that transpired at the presentation of the concept. But overall kudos to the team for the creativity and courage to try something new. We marketers need pioneers to sketch out these possibilities, especially those of us who are only open to following a well-trodden (paved?) path.

As the old saying goes, you can tell the true pioneers by the arrows in their backs. Within two days of the launch of the site Mars was forced to hastily revise their approach. It seems that web vandals could not ignore the destructive impulse to post profanity, racial epithets, and worst of all, advertisements for their own unrelated products and services. By Day 3 the Skittles widget floated over the Wikipedia article for the candy. We assume that the decision was made to retain the general concept but to execute it with content that was less likely to be defaced. As we write today, opens over the candy's YouTube Channel.

How do we judge a company's marketing efforts? Hopefully it helps the company achieve their business goals. Hopefully the efforts bring true value, either psychic, aesthetic, or functional, to its consumers. Hopefully long-term goodwill accrues to the brand.

On the first day of so many Tweets were launched that Twitter crashed. The great majority of the Tweets were positive about the brand. Skittles' Facebook page now has 610,000 friends. And you can see from the two charts below that the site—and the news about the site—generated a significant increase in web traffic. We'll keep you informed as business results become available.

But as Fidel has always said, democracy is no way to run a country. Maybe its no way to run a marketing program either. We'll see. Social media are here to stay. And the ignoble instinct to deface and destroy transfers easily to the internet. Marketers will need to quickly learn to balance their traditional need for authoritarian control with the potential for anarchy that comes with democratic control of their brands.


For the current site, click here.

For the Skittles Facaebook page, click here.

For an article about Skittlescom, click here.

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