"This Blog Post is Not About Skittles"

3050039358_d885f4fc7c_mNearly everyone defaults to Google when they’re looking for stuff.  Sometimes, links to your brand will pop up organically.  That’s why you’ll hear the phrase, “Google is your new homepage” as one of the more popular mantras of Social Media zealots.

It’s code for “You’ve lost control.”

Last year, the ad agency Modernista embraced this concept.  Their website — as described by David Armano of Logic + Emotion — was “(thrown away) in favor of simply patching together all of their information across various social networks and services.”

This week, Skittles adopted a similar approach.  Brian Morrissey of AdWeek wrote a good summation.

But this blog post is not about Skittles.

This blog post is about the embrace of consumer-generated media (CGM) as a primary component of branding.  Is it possible?  Worthwhile?  Too dangerous?

When Doritos started its “Crash the SuperBowl” initiative 3 years ago — sourcing its SuperBowl commercials from consumer creative — it was heralded as a primary example of brands embracing CGM.  I beg to differ.  While I do laud the approach, it is still very much a “CONTROLLED” initiative.  You won’t see any raunchy entries to this contest.

Skittles took it a big step further than Doritos.  Modernista may have pioneered the concept of an “uncontrolled” web presence, but Skittles was arguably more bold, since a major brand-name was bound to elicit high volumes of chatter.

And in fact, this approach did burn the Skittles people — as some turdbirds took it on themselves to spam the twitterstream with Skittles-tagged cusswords.  In the end, the Twitter hashtag approach was too dangerous.  Skittles defaulted to a safe-haven Facebook page as its new “home.” UPDATE: While it is true that the twitterstream got polluted, it was always Skittles’ intention to rotate the homepage across different sites.

Does this mean that embracing CGM as a primary component of branding is a bad idea?  Not necessarily.  Not at all.

First of all, as noted in the very first paragraph: you don’t really have a choice. The bigger the brand, the more likely that a standard GOOG search will turn up some level of CGM.  In fact, I googled “Skittles” yesterday and look what turned up in the first page of results — a keenly negative YouTube video review and a pissy VentureBeat review of their new Social Media-heavy approach:


Just as importantly, look at the potential upsides of CGM.  Look at the beautiful, brand-boosting imagery you find at Flickr, when you do a search on the “Skittles” tag:


(This is just one example. Click for more photographic Skittlephilia.)

The fact is that FANS of a brand have far more power to influence its long-term fate than MARKETERS.

Thus the dilemma: how does a brand “relinquish control” to its fans while ensuring some protection from brand-bashers and unruly hooligans?

Partly the answer will come from the community.  Maybe if Skittles had allowed its “Twitter hashtag homepage” to continue for another day, they’d find that their fans would have teamed up to shame the hooligans into better behavior?

More likely the answer will come in the form of “curation.”  For example, my pal Shannon Whitley, a Social Media Programmer Extraordinaire, tells me that he could pretty easily “present the same real-time information from Twitter Search on a branded, filtered (bad words etc.), moderated (if desired) page.”

The point is, there are ways in which brands can mosey into the CGM patch.

As Social Media grows in importance — as a trend and as a SEO influence — a brand’s curators must make it their mission to HIGHLIGHT and SHARE the best examples of user-created, brand-relevant content… and either engage or ignore the tricksters and haters.

Can you think of some good (or bad) examples of brand curation in the Social Media era?  Comment below or “tweet the link” and lemme know?

Posted on: March 5, 2009 at 10:18 am By Todd Defren
25 Responses to “"This Blog Post is Not About Skittles"”


  • Loved your post. Skittles is tapping into a rich vein by turning over the controls to the masses. See parallels with what Shepard Fairey is doing with his art:


  • Creating a homepage that highlights the best of the best user-generated content that’s rotated out daily is a fine way to engage the people who create it and illustrate your fan base and the power of your brand through the eyes of others.

  • Paul Chaney says:

    Todd, you, David and Brian really mine the depths of this issue and I appreciate that you understand there’s more to this than meets the eye.

    I think it signifies a real turning point in the whole philosophic understanding of how the web works. We’ve crossed a line here and can’t go back. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but I think of this as a game-changing event that carries great import and weight. No longer does what “I” have to say trump what “we” have to say. “We” is better than “me.”

    We have entered an era of collaboration, co-creation and an emphasis on community, a fact that, thanks to Skittles, can no longer be denied or taken for granted.

  • Great point about fans having more long term brand influence than marketers over the long term.

    One thing that throws a stick in the spokes of some UGC efforts is when there is a brand with a more family- or kid-oriented thrust. I think Skittles applies since it’s candy and even though parents are the target audience and generally do the buying there has to be some consideration towards a potential audience of children. UGC such as we saw with the Twitter hashtag debacle could expose kids to all kinds of undesired results. (I realize they had an obligatory age filter but any seven year old could get around that).

    Small details but something worth considering.

  • Olle Ahnve says:

    Swedish record label Pluxemburg’s home page is another cool example of UGC based sites. My buddy Tor posted about it recently: http://www.jungrelations.com/blog/a-short-chat-with-pluxemburgs-developer/

  • laurent says:

    rebounding on your ‘Maybe if Skittles had allowed its “Twitter hashtag homepage” to continue for another day, they’d find that their fans would have teamed up to shame the hooligans into better behavior?’
    It’s an interesting question…because it seems that communities develop some kind of consciousness: all those hyper-networked, like minded folks act like the cells of our brain and, one things that come out if it is consciousness. The collective consciousness of a community gives birth to some kind of invisible ‘super ego’ that, as individual or social consciousness can punish bad behavior. We’ve seen with Motrin, Ford, Pepsi, PR folks spamming bloggers instances of a brand or community actors acting bad (per the community consciousness) and they got sanctioned.
    So if a brand does good but it’s fan act bad, it’s very possible that what you describe will happen.

  • Excellent post, Todd. I certainly am nowhere near your level of experience with social media, but it is interesting to watch people who talk about the importance of the long-term objectives of social media be so immediate to deep-six the Skittles move.

    Once the pundits move on to the next crisis/story de jour, it will give the fans/users the opportunity to determine if the Skittle web strategy works. I applaud Mars Snackfood for thinking outside the wrapper.

  • Tim Allik says:

    There are a million different ways that Skittles could leverage social media to extend the brand. I like the Skittles hat picture you posted. How about a photo contest with people using Skittles as a fashion accessory? Or of people eating Skittles in the unlikeliest of places (i.e. the top of Mount Everest)? How about asking people to come up with creative games that use Skittles as board pieces? Or a “patriotic” video contest asking people to whistle the Star Spangled Banner with a mouthful of Skittles? Or a haute cuisine recipe contest featuring (what else) Skittles? UGC needn’t be a random free-for-all to be impactful. On the contrary, for the majority of products/services you’re just setting yourself up for a flame war if you just let it rip with no guidance, theme, or moderation.

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