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MARCH 3, 2009

Skittles Cozies Up to Social Media

Candy's Site Is Built on Consumer-Created Content From Twitter, Facebook

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3/3/09 3:46 PM

Skittles Cozies Up to Social Media -

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By EMILY STEEL

For years, Skittles has encouraged consumers to "Taste the Rainbow." Now, the candy brand wants people to "Chat the Rainbow."

Mars Snackfood, maker of the chewy, multicolored candies, launched a new homepage at on Thursday that may represent the closest embrace of social media yet by a mainstream marketer. Instead of a typical product site that highlights information about or videos and games related to a product, features content created by consumers -- most of it gleaned from other Web sites.

Posted on the site last week was the Skittles article from Wikipedia, the user-created Web encyclopedia. On Monday, featured postings from the social-messaging site Twitter that include the word "skittles."

Mars Snackfood says it redesigned the site to better connect with its core teenage audience, which spends a lot of time using social media. "The teen audience relies heavily on their peers for advice on products. This is a unique, unexpected way to engage and to be a part of the conversation," says spokesman Ryan Bowling.

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Digits: What Are You Doing? (#Skittles)

"It is a very bold campaign in the sense that they are letting consumers speak on behalf of the brand," says Chad Stoller, executive

director of emerging platforms at Organic, a

digital-marketing firm owned by Omnicom Group, whose digital-ad shop created the

site.

Most brands don't dare go so far, says Charlene Li, founder of digital-media consulting firm Altimeter Group. "They are getting so much buzz on it, it is unbelievable. ... They are really showing people, this is redefining the way you think about brands."

On Monday, the term "Skittles" was among the most popular topics discussed on Twitter, according to Twitter Search. Nielsen Online also noted a sharp increase in online buzz related to Skittles since the new site's launch.

Other marketers have experimented with featuring consumer-created content on their Web sites. Online retailer Zappos spotlights its Twitter mentions on a section of its site. The Web site for Chrysler's Jeep brand features user-generated photos from Flickr or video from Google's YouTube online video site. But few marketers have built their homepages around messages, videos and other content created by consumers.

The strategy involves plenty of risks, digitalmarketing executives say. Skittles has little control over who participates and what they say.

Other experts say Skittles is taking the wrong approach to social media. Instead of encouraging teens to have a conversation about Skittles, it is encouraging false conversations about the brand, says Shiv Singh, vice president and global social-media lead at Razorfish, a digital-marketing firm owned by Microsoft. "Everyone is having a field day and writing 'Skittles' on Twitter just to get attention," he says.

Sure enough, the site became the target of Internet pranks on Monday. The way the "Chatter" portion of the site is built, any Twitter user who mentions the word "Skittles" is

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3/3/09 3:46 PM

Skittles Cozies Up to Social Media -

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featured on the homepage.

At least one Web site has been launched by pranksters encouraging Web users to post negative comments about the candy. The comments range from the thoughtful to the outlandish. "Skittles taste terrible. If you eat Skittles you support killing kittens and puppies," wrote a Twitter user named kingshane.

The new site design has sparked controversy on the candy's Wikipedia page, among users who are concerned that marketers will destroy the integrity of the site "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,'" wrote a Wikipedia user with the handle ConcernedCitizenry.

acts as a filter on top of a slew of other social-media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The brand says it is monitoring its site but not changing any of the content.

The type of content featured on the new homepage varies according to what's generating buzz. For example, if Skittles launches a new TV commercial, the homepage that day might be Skittles's page on YouTube.

Whether Skittles has reached its target audience remains to be seen, digital-marketing executives say. The site doesn't usually generate much traffic. In January, attracted 20,000 unique U.S. visitors, according to comScore.

Moreover, the Twitter audience is still small. The messaging site had 2.6 million unique U.S. visitors in January. Much of the conversation Monday about the new Skittles site appeared to be coming from ad-industry insiders.

"We live in an echo chamber where we think Twitter is the biggest thing. But the reality of the situation is it is not yet. It is an experiment," says Ian Schafer, chief executive of Deep Focus, an independent New York digital-ad firm.

Write to Emily Steel at emily.steel@

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page B4

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