Skittles Web Site: Who’s The Audience?

A MediaPost mention about Twitter and Skittles greeted me when I opened TweetDeck this morning. After reading (and retweeting), I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

skittles_ageNothing — nothing — I read prepared me for the inanity that is the Skittles.com “user experience”. I’d love to see the personas that the ad agency used when it pitched this web site design. (Hint: that’s a not-so-veiled slap, because it looks like there were no personas in use.)

I’m speaking, first, to the “you must be x-age to enter” widget.

Excuse me? Skittles is candy.

There’s a disclaimer in small print about needing to be 18 to “shop” (not “buy”) online. OK, but there’s nothing for sale here! I checked one of my favorite candies, Nerds; Wonka has no such age-barrier. Snickers (another Mars candy) has what appears to me to be on first glance another inane site, but, like Wonka Nerds, it has no age-barrier.

Thus, one has to assume that the audience is over 18. Maybe that matches the demographics of their customers. I don’t know. Not a Skittles fan.

Then there is the not-so-small “small print” on the age-barrier widget:

“Any stuff beyond the Skittles.com page is actually another site and not in our control …” Insert “rolling eyes” here, especially if the audience is supposed to be “adult.”

Skittles Wants Firefox

Who knew that the browser wars (“best viewed with”) were still in play, only now the marketers want us to use Firefox? Never mind that Camino is built on the same “engine” that powers Firefox. It’s one of the three browsers that I use. (The Skittles programmers like Safari4 with its default settings; no such warning there.)

skittles-camino-home-ff-only

What’s great about visiting Skittles.com with Camino is that you can bypass the inanity of having the web site navigation widget “sit” on top of Facebook. (Yesterday, the web site sat on top of Twitter.)

skittles_ff_home-cropped

Anyone can use that “go to HTML page” link, but the link is hidden to Firefox and Safari visitors: http://www.skittles.com/thehighway.htm.

The “plain HTML” view of the web site home page still wants plug-ins that I already have (Flash Player) and that work in Camino.

skittles_flash

However, I block Flash animations, which seems to have messed up their backend system:

camino_block_flash

Deconstructing The Site

Here’s what a more honest home page would look like (see my annotations):
skittles_home2_camino_annotated

Mapping, from most control to least control:

  1. “Video” -> YouTube (Skittles YouTube screenshot, Camino)
    The “Video” link sends us to YouTube. Here, Mars (warning – corporate site is very Flash-heavy) has as much control over message as it wants. Mars controls the videos and, to some extent, the comments. Mars cannot control response videos.
  2. “Friends” -> Facebook (Skittles Facebook screenshot, Camino)
    As with the YouTube link, the Skittles team sends us to their Facebook page. Yeah, Facebook has great mindshare for the word “friends” — but it’s not the only social networking site. More appropriate name might be “best friend.” I haven’t checked to see what the page looks like if you don’t have a Facebook account. Less control than with YouTube.
  3. “Photos” -> Flickr (Flickr search screenshot, Firefox)
    I expected the Skittles team to take me to a Skittles Flickr account, with lots of cool Creative Commons-licensed images of the candy. Instead, I’m given user-generated pix. Skittles is exercising zero control here, although some control is possible. Passive, not active, use of the social space.
  4. “Chatter” -> Twitter (Twitter search screenshot, Firefox)
    Like Flickr, this link does not take me to an @skittles page. Instead, it sends me to a Twitter search for “skittles”. Ugh. Once more, the Skittles team abandons any pretense of interaction with community.

At the risk of repeating myself: who is the audience for this web site? Why would Skittles want to demonstrate its lack of engagement by pointing us to “social media” where it is not being social? I don’t get it.

Then there’s Wikipedia. That’s where all of the product links take you. IF the Skittles team is taking part in the writing of these pages, then they’re doing it under nom de plumes.

I checked the history pages, looking for anyone who might be employed by the agency or by Mars. I checked “real names” — because if employees are posting using names like Dynaflow, there are even bigger transparency (and trust) issues. No joy. Three pages of history; three real names; no mention of working for Skittles or Mars. Note: I think it’s perfectly acceptable for an employee of a firm to contribute to a Wikipedia page, so long as there is transparency (they have a user account with a real name and their bio reflects their employer) and no nefarious behavior.

Either the Skittles team is continuing along the “passive track” demonstrated by its use of Flickr and Twitter or it has minions editing anonymously. Neither route recommended.

XHTML Abuse

Someone please tell the coders at Mars Candy Co. that the H1 tag is for a headline (the main one), not a paragraph of text:
skittles_source_home2

Finally the geek in me cannot close without commenting on the “trying to hard to be cute” factor evident in the XHTML meta-data. Oh, and fix that curly-quote:

skittle_home_source-1

My verdict: the Skittles team is trying too hard to be “cool” and demonstrating profound cluelessness in the process.

Update: Here’s my Flickr set of screen captures.

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