Archive for May, 2009

Yesterday, a good friend of mine led me to what could possibly be the sign of corporate web sites to come. It turns out that Skittles no longer has a full web site. It’s now a floating widget, about the size of a large banner ad, that displays links that open in your internet browser.

How's this for web presence?

How's that for web presence?

Kudos on the design idea, but here’s where it gets really interesting.

Their “Home” page is now their Twitter page. Their “Friends” page is now their Facebook page. Their “Media” page is…you guessed it, YouTube. Their legal information has been reduced to a paragraph of aptly titled “gobbledygook”. This leads me to wonder, has the Skittles brand just gotten lazy?

I decided to take a look at the website of their parent company, Mars, Inc.. There I discovered that the scarcity of brand experience is not the method of choice. In fact, what you get is a slow-loading flash site with an interactive globe that longs to present a deluge of things I really don’t care about. It does, however, tell me more about the Skittles brand than I can squeeze out of Skittles.com. It’s a bit hard to find at first due to the masssive amount of content, and definitely something you have to search for, but it’s there.

After a bit more research, I read that Mars is buying Wrigley, another cavity-inducing behemoth. Many of the Wrigley brands, such as Big Red and Life Savers, don’t have web sites (seriously, Google it). This discovery leads me to believe that there may be some hidden genius driving the candy industry towards this new design.

Consider where you come across these brands in the real world. Is it the candy aisle? Rarely. The candy store? Hardly. The candy restaurant? I wish. The truth is, they have to encounter you, usually in the checkout aisle, where you stand and wait with little else to do but endure your children’s pleas for Skittles. That same logic is now being used online: don’t wait for the customer to find you; instead, go where the customer is. Social media is turning the gears and keeping the content fresh, current, and relevant; thus creating a more effective (not to mention less expensive) web presence.

Under new light, his approach makes perfect sense. Long-gone are the days of teenagers going to play flash games on websites in computer lab. Instead, they’re updating their Twitter status, and Skittles is showing it’s awareness to it. I’m now interested to see how it’s used in other industries. I find that more and more major-label bands are dropping the expense of promoting via web site for a the dierct functionality and traffic of a simple MySpace page. I can’t wait to see how Wal-Mart tries this.

Until then, let’s reminisce to what was, shall we? Here’s a link to a time when Skittles had a home. Enjoy!

Thanks to Alisa Beyer for the heads-up on this!

A couple days ago, in a trip to Target, my eleven year-old daughter asked for an AC/DC t-shirt. I couldn’t help but laugh because, by the time I was her age, AC/DC had become passé. It also got me thinking about how time breathes new life into past pop culture, and the strange pattern that it follows.

In the eighties, sea-foam green, leather jackets and the nostalgia of “Back to the Future” had a tremendous influence on the decade. We embraced an older, patriarchal Republican president, as we did with Eisenhower. Our attention moved away from Vietnam to slightly west, as the Cold War became real once again, along with our aim to end it.

Peace, Love + PepsiThe L.A. Riots of 1992 were the largest racially-fueled events our country had seen in decades. The rest of the nineties more-or-less focused on an era of peace and change, with a newer generation donning tie-dye, peace signs and Woodstock (this time, with a much bigger budget). The nineties echoed the sounds of sixties rock, reggae and funk. We ushered out the existing political regime in favor of someone younger; more handsome and eloquent. It only lasted a few years again, before we had an older Republican in office. Ironically, the presidents that closed out the sixties and nineties would both leave the office under monumental disapproval.

The turn of the century saw a resurgence in seventies interior, fashion and graphic design sensibility, incorporated into the technological advancements of our time. Seventies icons like ringer t-shirts with iron-on transfers were re-introduced and became property of this new generation as they protested a war that made no sense to many of us. We saw the rock music world re-capture the fashion and musical style of Lou Reed and The Rolling Stones, while disco was digitized and re-introduced in nightclubs around the world.

Now that we’re about to close this decade with horrific inflation and unemployment, a global energy crisis and car-makers in turmoil once again (don’t forget, Congress approved over a billion dollars to save Chrysler from bankruptcy in 1979), what do you see in store for the twenty-teens?

Starbucks has finally fired back against the blows that fast-food competitors like McDonald’s have dealt at the ubiquitous giant and rightfully so. But how did they choose to set themselves apart from their rivals? A large, big-money ad campaign! You can read about the campaign anywhere, so I won’t waste your time with recycled news. Instead, I’d like to express what I feel has brought us to this point.

A long, long time ago, Starbucks became a part of our daily routine, whether it was to grab a quick latte on the way to work, or to meet with friends and soak in the ambiance in the evenings. Starbucks was more than coffee, it was an intimate experience where stress was checked at the door.

Starbucks made little more than coffee drinks, and they did it well. Half of their counter was dedicated to selling the beans that made them famous, the other half was where espresso was made into an art form. The staff was educated and enthusiastic about the heritage and craftsmanship of coffee, in a cafe laid out in such a manner that you could almost feel like there was no place quite like it anywhere else. Over those years, my daughter and I made Starbucks a place where we could just hang out and talk about life, her with her Frappuccino, and me with my iced-quad-venti-nonfat-caramel-macchiato.

I even spent a while working at a Starbucks. In that time my passion for coffee led me to earn a black apron. If you’re not sure what that is, Google will help.

Give the people what they want.

Give the people what they want.

Things have certainly changed. If you walk into a Starbucks today, you’ll see that the whole bean counter has been removed, to make room for toaster ovens where you can get a sandwich with your drink. Don’t care for coffee? No problem. You can now choose from a wide array of bland smoothies, waters, or even no drink at all. The environment that once made us feel at home is now cluttered with clearance retail and, to keep up with the times, CDs.

Starbucks has grown into the “pack ‘em in” fast-food enterprise that they were once the very antithesis of. And now, to further homogenize themselves in the bland corporate mix, they have their own ad campaign. Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re feeling the economic and competitive pinch. Hopefully, it will wake them up to what made them great in the first place and stick to only that, because no one wants to see Starbucks and feel Walmart.