The remake of Skittles.com has provoked some predictable debate. When I first saw the site Friday afternoon, I knew immediately how it would go. It would enter the typical ad industry echo chamber: Did Agency.com rip off Modernista? Sure enough, immediately after I posted about the site on Twitter and Adfreak, that’s where it went.
Let’s put that to rest: Yes, it clearly got the idea of an “un-site” from Modernista’s innovative Web site makeover a year ago that points to the social Web to define the shop. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. The ad world needs to get over the propriety of ideas. On the Web, as Ana points out, it’s about trying things, building on the existing, testing and adjusting.
What’s more interesting to me is what Skittles might mean for the future of the brand microsite. I confess that I have a long-held skepticism for nearly all microsites. They seem outdated and mostly pointless. Their shortcomings are made all the more obvious at a time of social media. For the past several weeks, I’ve been neck-deep in submissions for digital agency report cards. The product microsites are nearly uniformly terrible. I keep asking myself why I’d want to go there to play that Flash advergame, upload my photo on a snowflake, get immersive with rum. I simply don’t get it.
The old playbook for Skittles would be to make a Flash microsite that matches up to its “Taste the Rainbow” tagline created by TBWA. Agency.com could have and truth be told, usually does that. Instead, it borrowed the Modernista idea to let others define what you're about. The crucial difference is this isn’t an agency but a candy product owned by Mars. Skittles did a small thing in aggregating the conversation out there on YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, et al. The statement, however, is quite interesting. As someone from Agency.com mentioned to me about the they-stole-the-idea hubbub: “More companies should learn: It's not about them, but about what their customers are saying about them.”
People are, in fact, talking about Skittles out there. Check it out for yourself. It’s true what Gary Vaynerchuk says: Twitter.com isn’t nearly as interesting as search.twitter.com. I spent the weekend monitoring the conversation about the site at search.twitter.com. What amazed me was not just how many people were talking about the site, but how much other Skittles conversation is out there. Quite a few people put Skittles in vodka, for instance. That’s a pretty interesting trend for Mars to know. Also, it seems chocolate Skittles are disgusting.
Earlier in the week, I spoke with one of the top digital strategists at a major holding company. He told me social media is incredibly important for brands, especially packaged goods. There’s no reason for people to go to their sites, he said, but the conversations are happening out there. “There’s a business model for CPGs there,” he said. The idea is that all that conversation provides an opportunity for brands to listen, troubleshoot, reach out to fans, maybe even come up with product and marketing ideas. The execution of Skittles.com can be quibbled with. It would be nice to see the brand do more than just aggregate conversation. It might not even be the ideal product for this approach. Yet I think Agency.com and Skittles are onto something with it, “ripoff” or not.