Showing posts with label mars inc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mars inc. Show all posts

Friday, March 6

Gambling With Brands: Skittles Slippage

"Just a heads up: Any stuff beyond the page is actually another site and not in our control. This panel may be hovering over the page, but SKITTLES® isn't responsible for what other people post and say on these sites." — Skittles

While one of my favorite people on Twitter, David Armano, continues to consider the sociological viewpoint of Skittles' decision to replace its homepage with social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia; I keep turning my attention to the individual cognitive implications that the change may have on the brand.


There is ample evidence to suggest that while people initially encode verbatim information (statements and pictures), they tend to rapidly forget this information and retain only abstract meanings over a relatively short period of time. One experiment that comes to mind is that of Michael Posner, the editor of numerous cognitive and neuroscience compilations and an eminent researcher in the field of attention, in 1969.

His study demonstrated memory for an initial stimulus is rapidly transformed into an abstract code. In other words, when applied to Skittles, we might conclude that people will not remember exactly what is said about Skittles, but they will remember a general impression about Skittles. And those impressions are now left up to the people talking about the site.

Adding Up Impressions.

In effect, Skittles has largely abandoned brand management, enough so that the majority of the brand is being managed by social media participants. In the case of the Twitter page, what they say is captured on the site, and creates impressions.

Currently, two things are happening. First, the initial buzz surrounding the launch is quickly dissipating, especially around people with the greatest reach (large audience). Second, most people are forgetting the exact messages they saw related to Skittles, leaving them with abstract ideas.

What are those ideas? Everything from people who want to prove the campaign works by buying some to people who say they are poison because they contain trans fat. In fact, Skittles far outweighs most chewy fruit candy in terms of calories and sugar (depending on the favor).

However, what we know from cognitive psychology is that most people will not remember the specifics after a few days. What they will remember is much more basic and abstract. Or, simply put, they will have a positive or negative impression.

After conducting a brief but relevant scan of the conversations around Skittles, we estimate that approximately 66 percent of the participating public will be left with a positive impression and 44 percent will be left with a negative impression. Even then, these impressions, positive or negative, will not necessarily convert into sales. However, they seem to be doing an excellent in converting neutral candy buyers into anti-Skittles consumers, a virtual crisis communication in the making.

For a candy brand, there is no other way to say it so I'll just say it. IT SUCKS. Perhaps worse, Skittles has created an age barrier, which Kathy E. Gill appropriately described as considered an attempt to "try too hard to be 'cool' and demonstrating cluelessness in the process."

What's Going Wrong?

Some people are failing to interpret what it means to "give up control" of a brand online. Giving up control doesn't have to mean allowing other people to define you, your product, or your company. And companies would do well to remember it.

"Giving up control" means allowing people to decide if you have made good on your brand promise. And if you have not, thereby damaging the relationship between the company and the consumer, it encourages the public to let you know so you can either adjust the product to meet that expectation or adjust the message to lower the expectation.

Without management or guidance, companies following the Skittles model risk fracturing their brand because the expectation is no longer in the hands of Skittles, but consumers, some of whom now have a negative impression despite never even trying the product.

Worse, when the initial sales figures come in, Skittles might accidently take a sales spike to mean the experiment works when, in fact, the real test of time will be sustained sales. Unfortunately, if the campaign eventually experiences diminished sustained sales, it might be too late to turn back. It might even be too late already.

Can Skittles Be Saved?

I cannot stress enough that, despite the initial indicators, it's too soon to tell. However, there is no denying that Skittles has painted itself into a box. There is no easy way to exit a forceful entrance into social media. And, the impressions that a brand makes when it exits social media or are forced to exit social media much like the shutdown of the Burger King defriending campaign, are never good.

Already, Skittles faced considerable stiff criticism for removing the Twitter page from its home page. If they decide to exit completely, any brand damage might tip to severe. The candy will always be associated with the campaign that didn't work.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for experimentation. In virtually every class I teach, I tell students that they cannot be afraid to fail if they hope to succeed in advertising, communication, or public relations. However, slow entrances into social media are usually more sustainable than flash-in-the-pan campaigns. And, there is a difference between being fearless and foolhardy.

In closing, I might mention that while some people might be praising the sociological viewpoint of the Skittles campaign, such thinking neglects one very important consideration: Branding occurs at the individual level.

Specifically, Twitter can be studied as a sociology perspective, but a brand on Twitter operates on the individual cognitive scale. So while time will tell whether all that ends will end well for Skittles, it's already leaning toward fail after a few jumped too soon to praise what doesn't amount to much more than push marketing.

Other Views From Around The Web:

Charlene Li: Skittles Bravely Lets Social Media Take Over The Homepage.

Stan Schroeder: Skittles Swaps Homepage from Twitter Search to Facebook Page.

Laurie Sullivan: Skittles Settles On Wikipedia For Brand's Home Page.

Joe Hall: Skittles’ Social Media Campaign: FTW or Epic Fail?

Michelle Kostya: Flavour Of The Week.

Tuesday, March 3

Buzzing Boondoggle: Skittles

How does Skittles measure success?

The 250,000 blog posts about the new site that broadcasts consumer comments back at them (and counting)? The 240 mainstream articles, including the Wall Street Journal blog (and counting)? How long #Skittles stays in the top ten most talked about subjects on Twitter?

Congratulations. You're being talked about. Now what?

For all the buzz about the new Skittles site, one wonders if the candy company might just jump the shark. Skittles, which has temporarily (underscore temporarily since it will be putting back its home page soon enough) has turned to social media as its primary marketing push online.

While there are scores of complimentary and contrary opinions to choose from, its still too early to determine whether their social media stunt might produce tangible outcomes. The smarter choice, for now, is to consider it as a living case study, with four basic observations up front.

• The reach might be too far. There seems to be no escape from the buzz on social networks like Twitter, which is irritating some participants. The primary reason for all the buzz up on Twitter is vanity over candy. Any time someone says anything about Skittles, they pop up on the current Skittles homepage (which will be regulated to chatter soon enough). Simply put, Skittles may be alienating its audience by focusing too much on atmosphere, which is something I wrote about just yesterday.

• The impressions aren't all positive. Almost 75 percent of the impressions being left and lofted at the Skittles site via Twitter and across various blogs are off topic or negative. It's one thing to praise buzz, but something else all together to consider a campaign a success when the negative impressions start to outpace positive impressions.

• Sustainability is a watch point. Talking about Skittles just isn't all that sustainable. The company runs a real risk of encouraging people to talk about the site so much, they will get sick of the shallow chat and stop talking about it all together. Right, there is a valid reason that most movie franchises are generally confined to a limited number of installments. Communication overload can kill interest.

• Skittles and its return on communication. There are only two real outcomes that may determine if the Skittles social media campaign is a success. First, what is the net sum of all positive and negative impressions? Currently, it seems they are losing ground. However, I have to concede that this may change once the initial buzz up wears off (unless some consumers go out of their way to attack it). The second measure is sales. In all fairness, we have to wait and see.

Even more interesting to me is why this marketing program seems to be getting so much attention for a program that is not new. The concept has been around for some time; we even wrote about it in February. In fact, using, Skittles could have done the exact same thing, but benefited from better background.

Of course, there is that other thing too. One wonders what the response will be like when Skittles puts its homepage back up, regulating the Twitter stream to the chatter button. It makes me hope that someone has a contingency plan for what could be billed as a short-term publicity stunt that fails at authenticity. My guess is there isn't one.

Why? They were in such a rush for buzz up that they neglected to consider how annoying it is to type in your birthdate on every single visit. Not only is it annoying, but any data capturing at this point is futile because the bulk of their visitors are visiting out of curiosity and not because they are interested in consuming candy.

Tuesday, August 12

Sensitizing Americans: Special Interests

There is an interesting twist to two so-called controversial advertisements produced and pulled by Mars Inc. and Heinz Company. According to an Advertising Age article, some people in the United Kingdom aren’t happy that Mars Inc. and Heinz Company pulled advertisements after being pressured by American special interests.

The Mars Inc. commercial featured a speed walker being harassed by Mr. T to become a “real man.” It was targeted by The Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The Heinz Company commercial, which featured a two dad household, was targeted by The American Family Association, which is a Christian activist group. Neither advertisement aired in the United States.

"People in the U.S. tend to be very reactive," Gerry Moira, creative chairman of Euro RSCG, London, told Advertising Age. "Everybody there belongs to a minority — even if there are millions of them.”

One spokesperson for Stonewall, a U.K. gay-rights group, reportedly said the Mars Inc. ad seemed "harmless" and that there was “no suggestion [the speed walker] was gay.” In fact, not even one U.K. gay rights group was bothered by the ad.

All in all, it seems neither the HRC (nor the American Family Association on the opposite end of the spectrum) pressure on companies has made much of a statement for homosexuals or family values. Both groups have, however, made a statement about Americans.

For more some other views, see this post, which includes an interview with Mr. T, and this post for the Heinz ad. The latter, which offended some conservatives and some homosexuals in the United States, received a mere 200 complaints in the U.K. where it aired.

Personally, I think we’re getting ban happy. It’s just too easy to call something like this ad something it’s not.


Thursday, July 31

Pulling Under Pressure: Mars Inc., Nike, Heinz, Verizon

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which is a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, has convinced Mars Inc. to pull an advertisement running in the United Kingdom.

According to the HRC, the ad featured a man whose appearance and actions – speed walking in an exaggerated manner – conjured up stereotypes of gay men. Worse, they say, that the advertisement portrays homosexuals as second-class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable, but humorous.

Although the HRC praised Mars Inc. for the decision, it seems getting the advertisement pulled was not enough. They lamblaste Mars Inc. for another Snickers advertisement that ran in 2007. Ironically, that advertisement seemed to poke more fun at men who were more homophobic than homosexual.

The Guardian, which posted the commercial, has a different opinion. It called the HRC claim — that the speed walker in the spot is homosexual — preposterous. The article suggests that Mars Inc. might listen to Mr. T rather than coddling what seems to be sensationalized oversensitivity. Apparently, Mars Inc. is not the only company.

Nike also pulled advertisements, which can be seen at the Gawker, because it was claimed they carried an anti-gay message despite the context. Verizon also pulled an advertisement under pressure from another activist group.

Meanwhile, Michael Wilke, executive director of Commercial Closet Association, which advocates and honors advertisements that feature gender identity/expression and sexual orientation issues, laughed about the advertisements being pulled.

Bill O’Reilly commented as well. He reminded viewers of a Heinz Company advertisement that was pulled for the opposite reason. It featured two guys kissing. Heinz caved, he said.

All of this sounds familiar to me for some reason. Oh, right.

“… minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from a book, until one day the books were empty and the minds were shut and libraries were closed.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Ho hum. I’m starting to wonder if I have to write another post about the difference between a writer implying context and a reader inferring context.

You know, based on the release from the HRC, I’m not so sure that Mars Inc. communicated sensitivity to the issue as much as it simply demonstrated its willingness to be browbeaten. And maybe the same can be said for Nike and Heinz and Verizon.

In fact, I’m not even so sure the activists communicated sensitivity to their own issues. It seems to me they all promoted the adoption of inferred stereotypes as identification. And that’s bad for everybody, equally.


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