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Life ain’t all beer and #skittles

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I woke up yesterday morning to find twitter all a buzz about the new Skittles homepage.  I’m not usually one to add to the echo chamber but I thought I’d give my two pence worth.

For those of you who, unlike me, have a life instead of monitoring twitter trends, Skittles have revamped their site and the content has almost been completely replaced by relevant pages from third-party social media applications. Visitors to Skittles.com are now directed to the twitter search result for the term “skittles” and invited to navigate their way about Skittles’ social web presence by using the flash navigation menu that overlays the page. [update: the homepage is now set as the facebook page as predicted my moi ;-)]
Skittles-home

The ‘Home’ and ‘Chatter’ links both link to the twitter search results for the term Skittles, the products links for each flavour lead to the relevant information on the Skittles Wikipedia entry. There is a ‘Friends’ link that goes to the Skittles facebook page and the video and photo links respectively lead to the Skittles profile on YouTube and Flickr search results for the term… well can you guess?

There are only two actual web pages in use: the product overview page and the contact form.

My first impressions were that this is very brave and very cool. I did have some reservations, however.

Firstly, the idea is not original. Dave Kinsella showed me the Modernista “Unsite” about this time last year.

modernista

Remember: a year in social media is roughly equivalent to one dog-year.

I don’t think the skittles implementation is as good. Modernista use javascript menus cleverly to help the user navigate to the content they need, rather than just pulling up a live stream of search results. Even worse, the skittles flash menu cannot be moved by drag and drop which means there is a chunk of the page on the top left that the user will never see. This is especially annoying when trying to navigate around text-heavy wikipedia pages.

I also couldn’t understand why the Homepage was set to the twitter search results. Ok, having a ‘Chatter’ link is pretty cool but why duplicate it on the homepage? All that will do is encourage twitter users to tweet the word skittles over and over again in order to try to get their tweets to appear on the…

*sound of penny dropping*

Aha! That’s it. The cheapest and most effective viral campaign there is. Genius.

I  was mildly concerned (but mainly interested and excited) to see what cunning ways people would try to subvert the idea. There is the most potential for amusing disaster on the Flickr search page. After all, a picture can speak a thousand crude words whereas there’s only room for about 2o crude words in 140 characters.

Unsurprisingly though, it was those cheeky scamps on twitter, led by mischief and Techcrunch UK’s Mike Butcher, who attempted to cause trouble for skittles.  This was closely followed by some wikipedia attacks (which I suspect will stop as soon as Wikipedia lock the entry).

I suspect that Skittles knew this would happen; they make users fill in an age declaration and those underage can’t continue. denied

I also don’t think that people acting the goat does Skittles any harm. The negative comments, especially the obviously silly ones, reflect only on the user posting them and at the same time as they are revelling in their cleverness at getting rude words to appear on the skittles home page, all their followers are busy investigating what all the Skittles posts are about.

For good or bad, skittles was the number 1 trending term on twitter for most of the day and with twitter’s current high profile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more mentions of Skittles in the mainstream media in the next couple of days.

I’m also betting that thousands and thousands of people who wouldn’t have thought about skittles ordinarily will now find their hand inexplicably drawn towards that brightly coloured bag while they are queuing at Tesco or picking up a paper. And that’s what it’s about.

There are some naysayers out there, including the normally astute Paul Fabretti, who are of the opinion that people mindlessly twittering the name Skittles, and people talking about the  promotion rather than the product doesn’t actually add any value. I couldn’t disagree more.

Buying a piece of confectionary is an impulse decision. You’re not buying a car so you don’t need loads of information about price and product. When was the last time you saw an informative ad for sweets or chocolate?

“But what about the general public?” I hear people cry. “The ordinary web users who haven’t heard of twitter, flickr, facebook, and wikipedia. They will be scared and confused when visiting the site and throw their laptop in the bath and never buy Masterfoods’ confectionary again and…”

Ok no-one actually suggested that last bit but you get the idea.

I happen to agree that the current homepage , while a great PR stunt, is not ideal in the long term. I think that Skittles will change it to something else in the near future – why else would ‘Chatter’ and ‘Home’ be duplicated?

But are there really any regular web users who have never heard of social networking and the most common web apps? More importantly, are there any regular web users in the target market for skittles that would be repelled by the use of such tools?

I suspect not. All in all, great work Skittles.

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