The new home page at Skittles.com, which at least one digital media expert is hailing as "a very bold campaign," reminds me a little of the parties hosted by some parents of high schoolers who figure it's better to provide a place with snacks, music and possibly beer for their kids' friends so they can have a good time without getting into any real trouble (i.e. getting arrested, injured or maybe even killed). Some kids think those 'rents are cool for buying beer. Others don't like the parents hovering around somewhere in the background or, worse, hanging out with the guests. Adults in the latter category subject themselves to teenage scorn and sometimes snarky pranks.
The Skittles site certainly doesn't look like any other. Click on "media" and instead of being served up a list of company-penned press releases, you can view a bunch of user-created YouTube videos or flickr photos. (Not all of which have to do with the candy, by the way. Who knew so many people had pets named Skittles?) "Chatter" takes you to a Tweeter feed, "friends" to a Facebook page (with 584,868 fans), "products" to a Wikipedia page. Just about the only traditional-looking page is "contact," which features the usual form for submitting a comment or question, along with a vague promise that someone will "get back to you." If only Skittles had kept the spirit of the rest of the site here, and offered up something like a Skittles avatar to chat with visitors. (The technology is there, Skittles!) Props to the company, however, for clearly posting a toll-free telephone number.
Skittles is taking the idea of user-generated content much farther than other companies such as shoe retailer Zappos and Chrysler's Jeep brand, both of which devote small portions of their sites to such content, notes a Wall Street Journal item. It has resulted in the kind on online buzz that's hard to obtain with more traditional types of marketing. The term "Skittles" was one of the most popular topics discussed on Twitter yesterday, according to Twitter Search, and Nielsen Online says there's been a spike in Skittles-related chatter online since the site's launch.
Skittles says it monitors the site but doesn't change any of the content, which means it can't control the quality or the message. Thus, you get lots of Tweets that have nothing to do with Skittles but feature spam such as offers for cheap notebooks or that include the word "Skittles" to gain added exposure for messages such as one urging folks to petition Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to veto a "Choose Life" license plate. It didn't take much clicking for me to find pictures and video with less-than-flattering shots of Skittles, such as ones of folks throwing up in Technicolor streams.
Wikipedia users aren't exactly thrilled to see a Wikipedia entry used in this way. Wrote one calling himself or herself ConcernedCitizenry: "If every corporation does this, Wikipedia will be just a collection of advertising pages 'controlled' by corporate employees, who can monitor their pages 24/7 and edit out what they don't 'approve.'" (Huh. Isn't this already possible?) And Shiv Singh, vice president and global social-media lead at digital-marketing firm Razorfish, notes that folks are "writing 'Skittles' on Twitter just to get attention." (Again, isn't this largely what Twitter is about?)
So, is Skittles cool for providing a central forum for user-generated content? Or is it a little too much like the fortysomething dad hitting on one of his daughter's friends? And will anyone care about the site next week? I have my doubts. Unlike Dell's IdeaStorm site, which actually engages users in a two-way dialogue, the Skittles site seems like little more than a colorful, fleeting and ultimately unfulfilling diversion.