Skittles: Failure to Plan

By: Anders Isaacson   On March 2, 2009, Skittles was nice enough to volunteer its website and its brand for one of the first viral experiments in social media user behavior.  The company, a division of Mars Candy, decided to turn its homepage into a live tweet stream which automatically displayed any tweet that included the word “skittles.” This strategy had been attempted before by an advertising agency Modernista, but on a much smaller level.  Let’s just say, this time it didn’t go well.

Almost immediately people began to fill the live feed with comments fit for the inside of a bathroom stall.  Some social media enthusiasts even posted obscene content just to test the limits of Skittles naïve foray into the Twitterverse.

Unfortunately for Skittles, it had somehow not anticipated these types of profane comments and had failed to plan for any type of control over the content in the live stream, with the exception of a small popup window that asked if you were 18.  Other than that, the greater Twitter community was free to say whatever they wanted knowing it would go straight to the Skittles homepage.

Before they new it, was a minefield of f-bombs, potty humor and racist jokes.  Not exactly what you would expect to find on the homepage of a company whose primary target market is children.

To be fair, some people praised Skittles for its bravery and for placing so much trust in consumers.  The campaign did attract a remarkable amount of attention in the social media world, as well as personal and professional bloggers, and the traditional media.  At its peak, was receiving almost 1000 tweets per hour. Heck, I’m even writing about it over two years after the fact.   I guess it depends on what your objectives are.  In this case, Skittles may have attracted a lot of people to check out its website; however, many of those visitors were appalled by what they found.

That being said, I do not believe that “any press is good press.” Even though the experiment lasted only two days, Skittles will forever live in infamy for this approach.  Google never forgets.  A simple search for keywords “Skittles Twitter fail” returns over 507,000 results including ‘Nine Worst Social Media Fails of 2009,’ ‘Skittles: A Lesson In Fail,’ and “Social Media Failure: How Skittles Scuttled its Twitter Account.”  In the end, Skittles failure to plan resulted in a barrage of negativity that left a sour taste in the mouths of consumers – but not in the way the company was hoping.



22 thoughts on “Skittles: Failure to Plan

  1. I feel like the people who care about social media strategies will view this as a poor naive decision instead of something that cost Skittles monetarily. There’s also a certain amount of social sympathy that goes out to anyone who gets ‘pwned by trolls’ so while there may be some truth in your belief that not all press is good press, I think there are better examples than this one.

    Also, I don’t believe the people who viewed the website when it was hijacked by trolls were as appalled as we might think. If I came across a corporate site that had the type of messages listed above, personally I would assume hacker infiltration. The site viewers don’t exist in a vacuum with the backs of their eye lids permanently tattooed with horrible messages on them. I think this case study is a great example of a growth spurt (they can be quite painful) in corporate social media usage. I would guess most people are willing to give Skittles a pass here since their intentions seemed admirable.

  2. Skittles should have anticipated that individuals would intentionally tweet inappropriate messages to appear on the company’s home page. I do not think that this was a good PR move because Skittle did not have control over its own image. Instead, it let random people publicize the company, for better or for worse. While I think it’s good that Skittles decided to engage in social media, the campaign didn’t necessarily attract the publicity that the company hoped for.

    Companies need to understand how to appropriately use social media. Social media isn’t the solution to every company’s marketing and advertising problems. In addition, being tweeted about a lot and having a lot of followers is not always conducive to being more profitable.

  3. I think that this was a really cool idea, but the company should have thought it through a little more thoroughly. Ultimately, it revealed the immaturity of the Internet, and showed that people will do when given tools to publicly say anything they want and anonymity when doing so. If Twitter forced users to use real names, I feel like this experiment would have turned out much differently.

  4. Chelsi Odegaard

    I think Skittles should have really looked at its target market before deciding to do an experiment like this live. Skittles have a young target market and when parents and/or the children looked at the site it probably had a very negative and unflattering look portrayed. I think it is great that Skittles is looking to use social media in a unique way and tried to do something different even though it backfired. It is important to really think things through before launching a campaign like this. This is something that could have been easily prevented and Skittles should have expected trolls to appear on the feed.

  5. Nicole S. Johnson

    I think the concept Skittles had in mind was great, it just was not thought out fully before it launched. Skittles should have made sure each tweet was approved before it was posted to its site ensuring there was no profanity or racism posted on their website. Skittles should be a family-safe website and it was far from with this campaign. If it were more closely monitored it could have been a huge success.

  6. This is a classic example or attempting to be engaging and innovative, but not thinking about what could go wrong. I thought It was a good idea (i mean who should really have anything bad to say about skittles) but many people took advantage of this and many kids were exposed to extreme profanities. Good try skittles, you wil get em next time.

  7. Julia Sullivan

    Skittles definitely took a risk with this social media plan. I think there should have been a team to filter out the good posts from the bad. Obviously not all the good posts would make it through but Skittles would still succeed in getting “brand buzz” and a more personal connection with their customers. Their current website also doesn’t seem to be very viewer friendly either. It’s hard to navigate and seems like mostly clutter.

  8. Stephanie Sahagian

    I did one of my case studies on this Skittles campaign and I found it to be very interesting. I really liked the visual of the website however I found it a little hard to navigate. I think Nicole is right when she said that Skittles should have made more of an effort to make sure the live tweets they were feeding onto the website were being monitored. When I think of Skittles I think of kids, although I do enjoy them myself. So being a product I associate with kids and families, I would expect to come to a family-friendly site. The risks of live tweets could put the website in danger of damaging its innocent image.

  9. Skittles decided to go swimming and took a dive in a pool of concrete. It is an excellent idea to give everyone the right to see their tweets on the website, but someone always ruins these types of parties. In their case, it was a lot more than one person. As much as you want the consumer to integrate with the brand, unedited and unregulated comments like skittles allowed for people to trash the brand just for fun. This gives a big headache to the Mars brand and the agency hired to keep up the blog. It is funny to see Skittles website now after this whole fiasco went down. The only posts allowed are tweets and status updates from the moderator. Skittles does well with their social media and listen well to the consumers so even though this was a minor bruise, it just goes to show that you have to keep moderating your site.

  10. This is one of the dumbest ideas i have seen. If the people of skittles advertised that ANY tweet would be “automatically displayed”, why would they expect any other scenario than what played out. If you look at any unmonitored youtube video there is an ignorant or vulgar statement every other comment. This was simply a lacking attempt to be innovative.

  11. And so Murphy’s Law finds it’s way into the Twitterverse. Tweet the rainbow.

    The internet is a hot bed of the best and brightest new ideas. This was not one of them. I’m with Don on this one, they threw a party and invited everyone. It’s going to get crashed. The internet is a safe haven for the worst intentions. Just about anything goes and leaving yourself out in the open like that is the cyberspace equivalent of streaking through the high school hallways. They made a mistake and fixed it. So really, not too much harm done.

    It doesn’t reflecting negatively so much on Skittles as it does on the internet itself. It gives people a platform to say what they would never say in public. And that’s straight up wrong. The internet shouldn’t be regulated. But an accepted code of conduct would be nice, especially when you’re talking about F**king candy.

  12. Melanie Conrad

    I commend Skittles for being one of the first to try out this strategy. Obviously the first time it’s done, mistakes are going to be made. It’s probably nearly impossible to completely be rid of profanity and inappropriate comments, especially when they come at such a rapid pace. It’s unfortunate that the Skittles brand was tarnished by all the people out there who thought it would be funny to Tweet bad things, but hopefully it served as a lesson to others that it is imperative to employ some kind of monitoring. I hadn’t heard of the Skittles fiasco until I read this post, so I guess it can’t have affected the company too negatively.

  13. I hadn’t heard about this “fiasco” until I read this blog post. It was a very brave decision on Skittles’ part and I don’t think that the events that unfolded should reflect badly on the company. Rather, it should just embarrass society that people can’t respect a public forum and are too immature to take advantage of Skittles’ bravery. The brand shouldn’t be tarnished and I don’t think it was. But all the people who sent immature tweets should be ashamed…since they are idiots.

  14. Really interesting post! I hadn’t heard about this fail until this year. While I do commend Skittles for trying to stick their toe in the waters of social media, they should’ve done a much better job planning. While I like to think that corporations should be able to trust its customers, it will never happen. There will always be people out there just creating noise in order get attention and create conflicts. Corporations need to understand that social media experiments can be risky because the internet is very unforgiving, especially Google with it’s elephant-like memory. I like that Skittles tried to get its brand out there by using social media, and the company shouldn’t be discouraged to try another campaign just because of this one incident.

  15. Dana Nicholson

    This is definitely an example of poor planning. Any time a brand is going to give its audiences free reign of its social media there needs to be some kind of plan for inappropriate and offensive posts. Incorporating the types of unacceptable posts into the Code of Ethics and social media guidelines the company could then monitor what was being said on the website. A lot of people aren’t a part of the social media world for a good reason, and it is the brand’s job to protect itself from those people who could potentially taint the brand image. Skittles definitely should have given more thought to how people would use this website and have created some kind of guidelines on how to deal with such profanity.

  16. Michelle Harada

    I actually did one of my case studies on this Skittles campaign, and the reason it wasn’t successful was because the company did not understand social media. The social media world is all about communicating between one another; and that is where Skittles failed. Skittles set up multiple social networks, where they wanted people to talk, yet, the company never responded back. Skittles never created a response team that would comment back to the fans. Their failure in the campaign came from zero responses, this is what upset consumers the most.

  17. Alexandra Hawes

    Skittles should stick to candy… social media does not seem to be their forte. Props to them for taking a HUGE risk in trusting their consumers but it definitely back-fired for them. I also did one of my case studies on Skittles and it seems to be a negative response overall social media wise. They are unsure how to approach their way of reaching out to their consumers but this was a bold move that most would not take. Overall, it did not end well for Skittles. Also, Skittles can be interpreted in a lot of different ways… it is not just a candy that you can find in a convenient store. Come on, Skittles! Dont let me down!

  18. Todd Greenbaum

    I think Skittles had an interesting idea and I admire their willingness to be the first to try and do something like this. Unfortunately they are the example that may stop any other companies from trying a similar campaign. Obviously there needs to be some sort of screening process for the tweets, and I am surprised that their wasn’t one in place for this. If the tweets are screened, I could see a campaign such as this one being successful. The other thing that surprised me about this debacle is that Skittles let this go on for two days before finally deciding to stop it. They should have at least had someone monitoring so that as soon as a vulgar term or bad word came onto the news feed they could have shut it down. Good idea but poorly executed by the social networking team at Skittles.

  19. Though this implemented Twitter plan had the objective of engaging Skittle’s fans in conversation around their brand, its ultimate failure probably didn’t have as much impact on the brand as one might think. Skittles has already such a strong brand, and negative tweets likely wouldn’t jeopardize their impression on customers. Since Skittles is merely a candy and not an organization who has objectives other than satisfying a sweet tooth, people are likely to maintain their opinion of Skittles even with the negative comments on Twitter. In spite of the backlash and immaturity of users, it is admirable that Skittle attempted to reach out to their customers by means of social media. This shows they are an organization that is looking to reach their fans in the social culture that they participate in.

  20. I have really enjoyed skittles ads over the last decade. I feel like most people, at least around my age 18-22, still love Skittles. I feel like an action like this by Skittles is done experimentally. You have positive feed back surrounding your product at least through word of mouth, and you want to try your hand in the web conversation. Unfortunately for them it sounds like they didn’t take necessary steps to monitor what was going up on the site. Individuals are more likely to say anything simply because they can on the web, and behind a user name people say things they probably wouldn’t say in public. I think this is a case of “live and learn” for Skittles, and I don’t think that it is something they would do again.

  21. At first glance this seems like a great plan and away to drive hits to the company website, however any J412 students cant point out a numeral of flaws. I think it is important for customer, and companies to have two way communication, but in this case, Skittles was not an active participant in the conversation. To improve the campaign I think not only should Skittle have been monitoring what tweets were going on the website, but they should have communicated with the customers that were willing to tweet.

  22. Pingback: AR and the risks of brand vandalism | 1000heads: The Word of Mouth People

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