18 June 2014

Brrrrrr. Skittles and the New Big Chill

If you're ever hoping to pinpoint the generational divide, step away from the GPS, and look no farther than DDB Chicago's campaign for SKITTLES.  A campaign which, from my side of the chasm, has a distinct chill to it.

Who are these ads playing to?  C'mon- I'll introduce you to a whole ballroom full of them.


The ballroom was a'buzz for a major Ad Awards presentation, especially since most of the two-free-drink-tickets had been redeemed.  Dinner and wine were done, as were coffee and dessert.  Lights dimmed, and two hosts were introduced, and strode on stage before hundreds of Canada's most high-octane young ad creatives*.

                * Memo to word snobs:  "creatives" is an established industry noun referring to a class of writers, artists and designers.  Suck it up. 

And then, nothing happened.

Really.  By 'nothing' I mean that few acknowledged that the presentation had begun, and the loud chatter continued.  Many laughed and gossiped loudly with their backs to the stage, raising their voices slightly to compete with the room noise, which now included two hosts on a P/A system.  Try starting a bible study in a strip joint and you get the gist.

Anticipating this, the hosts introduced their running gag:  when (not 'if', mind you) the room became too noisy, a third character would be wheeled to the stage on a dolly (channeling, one supposes, Hannibal Lecter.) packing a bear horn, with which he would restore quiet. (Neither the bear horn, nor the gag, worked.)

Peace broke out now and then over the next hour and change; as particular names were called, and particular works cited, interested tables hushed, then cheered madly.

The savvier marketing minds in the room- and they were many- must have grasped the irony:  this was a microcosm of 21st century marketing communications:  people pay attention to what interests them (which is nothing new), but have no time, zip, nada, zero tolerance, for what doesn't.  This is a relatively new, and troubling trend.


This is the audience of "you have two seconds to win my attention."  If that.

As a branding device, DDB's SKITTLES campaign is trashes the campaign playbook:  it lacks warmth, story and emotional connection.  It does nothing to forge a relationship.  Instead, each spot is built around an abstraction: a bizarre 'moment', a mutation of the cute and the disturbing. Young love, fluffy white clouds, and sweet older ladies are dispensed with the same confectionery iconoclasm.

SKITTLES builds no emotional equity or momentum; it's less a campaign than a series of first dates, linked by a common design and tone, and a plug-in-the-verb tagline:
Touch (or Smell/Feel/Pet/See) the Rainbow.  Taste the Rainbow.  
You can be forgiven for seeing a similarity in style to Wieden + Kennedy's much lauded Old Spice work:

The tone and imagery share a similar DNA.  But there's a major difference: Old Spice is built on a clear proposition:  "This isn't Dad's Old Spice anymore.  And to show it, we'll take you on a joy-ride far, far away from Dadland.  SKITTLES makes an inexplicable b-line to a similar place, and just parks there.  (Caveat:  yes, Old Spice is a fashion/lifestyle product, where SKITTLES is candy.  Marketing approaches twixt these categories are not interchangeable.)

All this isn't to say the SKITTLES campaign is a failure. Merely a sign of how an emerging generation of ad Creatives are perceiving and communicating with their peers:  opting for quick sugar hits over long-term relationship building.

And if that doesn't work?  There's always the bear horn.

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