Skittles Twitter stunt backfires spectacularly… or does it?

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An attempt by confectionary brand Skittles to cash in on the Twitter trend has turned out to be a humiliating disaster, and provided a perfect lesson in the dangers of marketing using social networking.


The brand, which is owned by Masterfoods, redirected its home page to an image of Twitter feeds mentioning Skittles, where visitors could see messages posted about the brand by other users.

But the plan soon backfired. When word spread over the internet that Skittles had begun to use its Twitter search feed as its home page, users began posting crude messages and even links to pornographic material.

Users began prefixing their messages with “#Skittles”, which would allow their message to be published on the page. But because the page was just an aggregator of search results, the company had no control over what was published.

Skittles has now changed its site to redirect users to its Facebook page instead, and the online media has accused the company of an embarrassing backdown.

But at least one Twitter expert thinks the stunt may have been more successful than it appeared.

Kevin Yank from Sitepoint.com says the decision to use the Twitter page was a deliberate move to gain time in the spotlight with the company’s key demographic.

“You think of the Skittles.com website and you think about what it achieves the rest of the time, and the answer is ‘not a lot’. If they can take their online presence and do something wacky – what do they have to lose?” Yank says.

“They’ve also got a younger-oriented brand, one that is online savvy, and that demographic is smart enough to know that if there is profanity all over the website they won’t blame Skittles; if they blame anyone it’ll be the people who wrote that content.”

Yank also suggests the company would have had a fair idea that some mischief makers would have taken advantage of the situation.

“Obviously they knew what they were getting into because they put an age check on the site before you could view it. I have a feeling they said, ‘This is what will happen’. It was a conscious decision.

“I take it as a stunt. I guess they were trying to get the users of social media in that particular demographic to take some notice of their brand and spend some time talking about it.”

But Yank says businesses looking to follow Skittles’s lead should be careful, and argues that SMEs must consider what this type of stunt can do for their brand.

“If that’s your demographic and you don’t need your website to project a professional image, then great; but not everyone is Skittles.com.”

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Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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