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, skittles.com 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, skittles.com 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.