In the last post, I talked a bit about the new Skittles site. This post really comes by way of an apology for a small experiment I ran following that post, and a couple of unexpected observations that came out of it.
The experiment was to try and take over the twitter search feed which had previously been (all of) the Skittles new ‘social media concept’ home page. The idea was to turn it into a large advert for something other than Skittles. As alluded to by Amelia , I could have chosen a a very ‘specialist’ or even offensive product. Instead I went for a simple, delicious and peanutty competitor, Reese’s Pieces – not least because I’m mildly addicted to them.
Unfortunately by this stage, the Twitter feed was no longer the site’s home page (instead being relegated to the ‘chatter’ section). Something tells me it might quietly disappear altogether fairly soon.
Frankly, it was very easy to do. Indeed, it could easily be accomplished using brute force alone. All you need to do is set up a twitter account and constantly repost comments about your product with the word ‘skittles’ (not even the hash tag) in them.
So far, so good. I coloured it up a bit by also creating an identity for my product and an appropriate little picture.
Manually putting the posts in is a bit dull so I set up a (google) app engine page to do it, using one of the Twitter APIs. That sounds fiddly but actually wasn’t much more complex than adapting some code samples from the web. App engine itself is relatively easy to understand, and it’s free.
I’d originally plalnned to post ‘Personally I prefer Reese’s Pieces to Skittles’ at regular intervals. GAE doesn’t currently have prebuilt fixed interval event calling (what’s called CRON) although this approach would still have been easily done. Instead, I turned it into a poll, where other users would click on a link saying, basically, ‘click here if you prefer RP to Skittles’. Each time it was clicked, the poll question was reposted.
And that was it. Every post on the Skittles chatter page for most of the weekend was someone saying they prefer a competitor product, and showing a picture of it.
There were a couple of issues, aside from being pointless. Firstly,Twitter limits tweets per hour which made the page hijacks bunch up a bit (although, again, I can think of multiple straight-forward solutions, if this were a serious attempt to cause trouble).
Secondly, someone – perhaps Mars or their agency, perhaps Twitter themselves, perhaps a search engine or a spammer was following posted links automatically – leading to loop that would ‘vote’ for RP every second or so – until tweet sending per hour was reached. Again, this could be easily fixed for a proper attempt to regulate the flow.
Was it vandalism? It certainly looked like it on their site, but really that is more a reflection of the Skittles’ approach. The way Twitter search works means that a feed with no followers, which is only a few minutes old, can dominate the search results. There is no inbuilt mechanism in this sort of setup to infer the authority of the post or the poster.
Clearly I was being a pain deliberately but there can’t ever be a reason why a lonely twitterer shouldn’t be able to say what they want to themselves (bear in mind that ReesePieces1, my Twitter identity had zero followers for most of the experiment – although even this bizarre character picked up three SPAM followers in a couple of days). And Skittles can scarcely object to their customers using the brand name – that’s the entire premise of this whole stunt.
So, my apology is to anyone who found the experiment intrusive or annoying, although it certainly showed what I wanted to test.
Whilst I’ve found the whole Skittles site launch most peculiar, it has been interesting to watch both the reaction to it, and the variety of thinking about what it means.
For me, the most telling aspect has been the brand’s reaction to trouble. Having Twitter as the dominant social media format certainly was quite brave. When that started going wrong, they switched to Wikipedia. Well it didn’t talk about deviant sexual practices, but you’d have to conclude that no one at the agency had really read it.
This is what it said at launch:
Skittles is a brand of chewy fruit candies produced and marketed by Mars, Incorporated. They have hard sugar shells which carry the letterS. The inside is mainly sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil along with fruit juice, citric acid and natural and artificial flavors.
Since then, the main Wikipedia entryhas been toned down a bit (by the agency?) and the Skittles.com links to Wikipedia have been updated to point at this bland varieties page. The Skittles.com home page now points to the brand’s YouTube channel (the area they control most) and shows the brand’s TV ads… which is exactly what every other ‘convenitional’ FMCG brand site is. Was it worth it?