Last June, someone at SKITTLES decided to honour PRIDE Month.
There is nothing bad about that.
Indeed, as the LGBT movement is a well established cultural trend that grows on a daily basis, there is nothing wrong if a company decides to directly or indirectly endorse the movement and try to get some cash out of a moral purpose.
What is business if not the land of opportunities?
However, if you want to embrace a political cause, you must do it properly.
The line that divides success and ridiculousness is very thin
What is SKITTLES?
SKITTLES, a British company established in 1974, is “THE OFFICIAL TUMBLR OF THE RAINBOW” (as you can read on its website).
The SKITTLES logo is a rainbow, and its product is a variety of multi-coloured fruit-flavored sweets.
Bear in mind: SKITTLES has been in the market for more than 40 years, and this makes it a very well appreciated brand with a specific and favourable position in the mind of consumers.
So what could have led SKITTLES’s management to consider clearly renouncing the identity of the brand, making the package and the sweets all white?
Let me guess how that meeting went…
“LET’S GET CREATIVE AND SEND OUT A PRESS RELEASE WHERE WE EXPLAIN THAT THERE IS ONLY ONE RAINBOW THAT MATTERS DURING PRIDE MONTH”
I might be wrong, but I doubt it.
Well, I must admit that the principle is right.
PR is about creativity.
You need to be creative to get the attention of journalists first and the media later.
What SKITTLES’s management badly missed is the entire meaning of the rainbow flag that has become the visual hammer of the LGBT movement worldwide.
Indeed, the rainbow flag (with its six colours) represents nothing less than DIVERSITY:
What did SKITTLES’s management decide to do instead?
They made their packaging and sweets all white, forgetting that the LGBT movement is generally a liberal movement which is broadly known to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
Thus, in order to celebrate "the only rainbow that matters" you paint everything white. . .
Not a clever move.
Especially because the LGBT movement had a previous symbol that was substituted by the rainbow flag: a pink triangle.
And guess where that pink triangle came from?
It was the symbol that the Nazis used to mark homosexual people.
It came straight from that political ideology that conceived human evolution as a domain of white superiority over other genetically underdeveloped races (the same races that the LGBT movement warmly welcomes).
How wrong was the decision to make all the packaging and the product white when instead you could have exploited that opportunity and make a fortune out of it?
I actually suspect that the strategy in place was malicious.
It is possible that SKITTLES’s management thought…
“Well, our visual hammer is a rainbow, and we do not want to attach that to a verbal nail that reflects the LGBT movement...We do not want to be permanently associated with the LGBT movement...We want to appeal a wider target than that...We have the biggest market share in the US for what concerns our industry, and a very divisive and conservative president has just been elected.”
Although we will never know how it went, and only those in the board room could tell us, it was such an unwise choice to make; SKITTLES has missed one of the biggest opportunities to actually strengthen its positioning.
In both the UK and the US, there is a highly political and controversial environment nowadays, and in both these countries the youngest generations are becoming more and more tolerant than the previous ones.
Homosexuality has become an acceptable, normal factuality; what has become abnormal is not accepting someone because of their sexual or gender identity.
The tens of thousands of people who attend LGBT gatherings aren’t expressing a condition of apartheid but celebrating their right to be free to be who they are.
What should SKITTLES have done during PRIDE Month to generate more sales and strengthen its brand positioning in the long term?
THE OFFICIAL TUMBLR OF THE RAINBOW
THE FREEDOM TO BE FREE.
“Sponsoring THE FREEDOM TO BE FREE” isn’t exclusively associated with the LGBT community and can appeal to an even broader audience.
Even a patriotic conservative movement could love it as a battle cry.
Patriots are celebrated as heroes for their ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Who doesn’t want the freedom to be free?
New generations are in love with the concept of freedom, and they express it in many ways: travelling, going to school, smoking marijuana, choosing their sexual partners…
“Sponsoring THE FREEDOM TO BE FREE” could even be used for educational purposes.
What if sponsoring events in school or public places SKITTLES would have given away free samples of their product?
Well, in spite of the fact that freedom has a price someone must be willing to pay, SKITTLES would have given away for free a certain amount of that "freedom to be free."
Wouldn’t this be interesting enough for the media to notice?
And while you appeal to the media you also create a sense of identity around the use of your product that later becomes that motivation that leads to action.
IDENTIFICATION => MOTIVATION => ACTION
Furthermore, what if for promotional purposes you could have given away a specific amount of SKITTLES to the first lines of any LGBT gatherings in major cities where the media were mostly focused?
What about having multiple pictures all around social media and the mainstream media of the participants with a rainbow flag in their right hand and a package of SKITTLES in their left?
Not to mention the amount of publicity SKITTLES could have generated with on-target media coverage by leading a PR campaign with credible spokespeople affirming their support to anyone— not only the LGBT community—who suffer prejudices and struggles on a daily basis to be themselves without any discrimination?
The problem most brands are facing right now is their inability (or lack of willingness) to be divisive.
They believe that being divisive will do deadly damage to their brand image and revenue.
However, being divisive means standing for something, and standing for something means standing against the opposite of that something.
When I bumped into SKITTLES's white packaging without having read the news (and most consumers don’t, thus making it hard for them to understand your choice), my first impression was that they were trying to hide their identity in order not to be associated with the LGBT movement.
Indeed, PRIDE Month could have been the chance to convey on a massive scale the values of the company itself, which is self-defined THE OFFICIAL TUMBLR OF THE RAINBOW.
SKITTLES could have communicated an atmosphere of colourful joy instead of making it look like a funeral.
LGBT parades are recognised worldwide for their atmosphere of fun, happiness, sharing, openness, and celebration.
You rarely hear about riots and clashes with the police.
What lessons can we learn from what SKITTLES decided to do during PRIDE Month?
Well, there are many.
(And I haven’t even mentioned how Harley-Davidson—the most successful American motorcycle—became Harley-Davidson…)
I will leave it to SKITTLES's marketing department, as they should revise that story.
1. Never do something without knowing what you are doing.
2. Never use events to deny your identity, but to reinforce it.
3. Do it cleverly, but stand for something; DIVIDE (as Al Ries would say: polarise not demonise).
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