Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My favourite brands continued - Skittles

I thought I'd pick up on a theme I wrote a few posts for when I started blogging, you probably guessed by now, about my favourite brands and why I like them.

So let's talk about Skittles.

To start with, and that's pretty obvious, I like the product. They're definitely amongst my all time favourite candy. I love the flavour and sorting them out by colour as I pull them out of the pack to choose which I feel like eating first (keeping reds for last, or until I have three to eat at once is a traditional strategy of mine). I love the sour Skittles as well. I had as a small kid in the States but while growing up in France, Skittles were few and far between. They were hard to find so it made more special than say, Haribo. Which by the way, I still don't understand why I can't find Tagada Strawberries in the UK - what's up with that Haribo?

They started out in the UK in 1974 and were subsequently released in the US in 1979, produced and marketed by Wrigley which also is a division of Mars Inc.

I also love pretty much everything they've been doing for marketing and advertising in the past few years. They've become well known for creating completely weird adverts in the past few years which seems to have really taken off in 2006 but I'm not exactly sure.

I found a few older ads; in the 80's Skittles was definitely traditional in the advertising:

The weirdness was creeping in beginning of the 90's with their 'Is that real?'

Then we have the string of silly, to full blown weird, to plain creepy ads, I love most of them:

And the famous 'Skittles touch'

The title of this ad brilliantly allows me to smoothly segue to the reasons why I love them so much. As you can see, this last ad was uploaded on Youtube titled: Worst Skittles Commercial Ever! I like to say the best kind of advertising is polarising, and these definitely are.

Brands can't be everything to everyone, particularly not FMCG brands that can hardly differentiate from their competitors. After all the competitors in the category are basically bits of sugar with flavouring so the brand itself and the way people remember it or not makes all the difference. If your brand or at least your communications are polarising, it gives something for people to talk about (or argue about).

I've read here and there blog posts from people comparing these ads to branded pieces of content such as Glass and Half Full Productions from Cadburys and wondering whether they were relevant, but I think there is a significant difference: where Cadbury's have created content with no relation whatsoever to chocolate, Skittles ads always feature the product. Moreover, the fact they feature the product in these weird settings forces people watching to think, even for the briefest of instants, whether they like the way the candy is being represented because it's not how candy is usually shown in ads. And that's brilliant.

They've also bravely been experimenting in the social media scene. They were slammed and criticised by many people a couple of years ago for their website that was basically a bunch links to live and real time social media sites (kind of a copy of the Modernista! agency site at the time, one of the reasons they were criticised in the industry). It turned into a mob lynching as people quickly realised anything tagged #Skittles was shown live on the website.

Skittles stuck with it. They didn't shut down their website. Everybody argued about whether it was brave or plain stupid. I liked it. There are a lot of other posts about it so I won't linger on that right now - the gist of my thinking is that many people were talking about a PR and social media / community failure when this was a website redesign and the way the brand represented itself to people rather than interacting with them. Essentially they gave the brand over to people to represent them for the time the site was live, and people responded in all their brutal beauty and ugliness combined.

Their Facebook Page is one of the most popular brand pages on the social network, over 8.5 million people subscribed and one of the only ones I appreciate the updates of, for the same reason I like the ads: they're complete nonsense and when I catch one on my news feed, it makes me smile.

The latest project / campaign they ran via Facebook a few months ago was genius: Mob the Rainbow. Raising cash for someone nobody thinks about, in its last iteration to fulfil someone's dream. As opposed to what we can often see on charity sites or generic brand campaigns, the dream here isn't grandiose, doesn't involve giant mansions or white sandy beaches. This guy's dream is to own a bowling alley and he needs a scolarship to help go through bowling management studies. Completely weird but also completely real and engaging for their community on Facebook.

As far as I know, Skittles also never changed their tagline: Taste the Rainbow. The rainbow has always been with them, they've only evolved the expression of the rainbow over time.

Loads of people create content online about Skittles and own the brand, whether it be people creating fake weird ads, flavoured vodka shots, or people arguing about the ads.

So there you go, I love Skittles. I might even buy some on my way home.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Put dot io

I hadn't heard about Put.io yet, so I thought you might not have either. Kai and Kalam told me about it last week and said it the fastest service they've come across. I've tested it this weekend and it's seriously fast. Incredibly fast. And probably a taste of what the future of computing might look like as well.

So what is it?

Imagine the unholy offspring of a cloud storage service like Dropbox, mixed with a media sharing community such as Vuze, and P2P file sharing in a variety of ways (BitTorrent, RapidShare, directly with friends, etc). Add in some radioactive electrically charged weird mix of chemicals to give the creature super-speed and there you have Put dot io.

Apparently they're based in Turkey and they have the fastest possible Internet connection in the country. Basically users register for an account, are given an amount of disk space on their servers and a monthly data streaming allocation, as an example the normal subscription I just got for $9.99 / month includes 50Gb of space and 50Gb of data streaming.

Once your account activated, you can either upload files to the server, or ask the server to download any files from anywhere. I tried it and it did about 1.5Gb worth of downloads in barely a minute. Something like the latest Yes Men documentary released on P2P would probably take less than a minute for the Put.io servers to download.

From there you can either watch it streamed from their servers or download it to your computer, share it directly with friends on the network. You can also use it as cloud based hard drive for any files and it's browser based so accessible from anywhere.

It reminded me again of the excellent Kevin Kelly TED talk about the next 5,000 days of the web, where he describes all our connected devices as different windows into one same entity, the web. As servers increase in speed and capacity, the need for hard drives on computing machines disappears, although it also raises interesting questions about perceived ownership and privacy.

With digital media having brought the costs of copying or even owning anything close to zero some considerations we used to have are no longer relevant, like background thoughts of being careful which photos I shoot with my camera because it's my only roll of film left. Now we have hundreds of photos from various occasions stored on our computers. I'm wondering if there is some feeling of comfort at knowing that even though those photos aren't tangibly present, they are all stored in a physical object, the hard drive in the computer.

Even if I don't understand exactly how it works I can touch and feel the object containing my photos, which may create an illusion of control or comfort. With everything going cloud based, we are going further away from physical, tangible things. We are already doing this with cards and money.

I'm not really sure what it means, but it's definitely interesting.

Try out Put dot io, definitely worth it!