Cannes Lions

Apologize the Rainbow

DDB, Chicago / SKITTLES / 2023

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Overview

Background

Performance of Skittles’ core items was not keeping pace with a growing fruity confections category.

These core items represented nearly 2/3 of the brand’s total dollar volume, but their relative lack of momentum was leading to losses in distribution and visibility. And in a category dominated by a constant stream of new textures, formats, flavors, and innovations, our un-changed, “original” Skittles offering was easier than ever to forget.

We needed an idea that would not only remind people of this core product, but make it worthy of attention (and eating!) – creating enough “news” out of the classic Skittles experience to make it a salient option once again.

Objectives:

1. Drive a 5% lift in $ sales for Skittles core items

2. Drive a 12% lift in velocity (i.e., units sold per store)

3. Earn 100% positive/neutral sentiment in coverage

4. Drive 2x (100%) increase in Lime Skittles social mentions

Idea

In 2013, Skittles swapped out its lime flavor for green apple.

In the 9 years since, a remarkably persistent, vocal, and disgruntled group of lime-loving consumers had been demanding its return -- hijacking the comments of nearly every social media post Skittles authored, and letting their un-filtered frustration fly.

In 2022, we decided to finally make amends and give this group what they had been demanding for so long: we would bring back lime.

To bring maximum attention and authenticity to the restage, we decided to embrace the over-the-top angst of these lime-loving fans. Not shying away from their criticism, but leaning into it, and offering an apology.

But instead of the shallow corporate mea-culpa that culture had come to expect, we would flip the script entirely with a classically ridiculous Skittles idea:

individually apologizing to every single person who complained about us taking lime away... all 130,880 of them.

Strategy

To bring the idea to life, we messed with the tropes and trappings of the standard Corporate Apology. Reflecting not only the classic self-aware Skittles style, but the streak of corporate-America wariness that defined a modern Gen Z outlook.

These young consumers represented the largest source of growth, both for the category and for Skittles. But with just 6% of Gen Z’ers saying they “trust corporations to do the right thing” (vs. 60% of gen. pop.), poking a little fun at the traditionally stilted, shallow, and sanitized corporate response to wrongdoing offered a welcome release from reality.

Our strategy was anchored in channels & tactics that allowed us to be:

1) Prominently Public, to drive the authenticity of our apology and generate reach and visibility for our re-staged core offering, and

2) Absurdly Personal, to maximize its ability to drive lime-lover community engagement, and cultural conversation more broadly.

Description

A SOFTENING SKITTLES CORE

Performance of Skittles’ core items was not keeping pace with a fast-growing fruity confections category.

While these core items represented nearly 2/3 of the brand’s total dollar volume, their anemic sales momentum was leading to serious losses in distribution and visibility. And in a category dominated by new textures, formats, flavors, and innovations, our un-changed, “original” Skittles offering was easier than ever to forget.

We needed an idea that would remind people of this core product, and make it worthy of attention (and eating!) – creating enough “news” out of the classic Skittles experience to make it a salient option once again.

A POTENT BUT PROBLEMATIC SOURCE OF CORE SKITTLES PASSION

While many category buyers --including a must-win cohort of teen eaters-- had largely lost interest in the core Skittles proposition, we knew one group had been obsessed with it for nearly a decade.

In 2013, Skittles had swapped its lime flavor for green apple, and in the 9 years since, a remarkably persistent and disgruntled subculture had formed to demand its return.

They had logged 11,000+ complaints with Mars Wrigley, and averaged 47 mentions of lime on our social channels every day... FOR NINE YEARS STRAIGHT. They represented the most visible interest and engagement around the core Skittles product, even as they were actively “hating” on it.

If we could find a way to positively harness their “negative” passion, we realized, we could use it to regain the attention of the masses.

It meant embracing an uncomfortable truth: our most passionate core Skittles fans were actually our most thoroughly-disgruntled consumers.

RE-KINDLING THE CORE SKITTLES LOVE, BY FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGING THE FLAVOR-CHANGE HATE

In 2022, we decided to finally give in to Lime Lovers' demands. We would restage core Skittles, to bring back Lime for good.

And to bring maximum attention and authenticity to this restage, we decided to embrace the over-the-top angst of our flavor fanatics. Instead of shying away from their criticism, we would lean into it, and offer an apology.

But instead of yet another boilerplate corporate mea-culpa, we would flip the script with a classically ridiculous Skittles idea: individually apologizing to every single person who complained about us taking lime away... all 130,880 of them.

UPENDING THE CORPORATE APOLOGY PLAYBOOK

To bring the idea to life, we messed with the tropes and trappings of the standard Corporate Apology. Reflecting not only the classic self-aware Skittles style, but the streak of corporate-America wariness that defined a modern Gen Z outlook. With just 6% of Gen Z’ers saying they “trust corporations to do the right thing” (vs. 60% of gen. pop.), poking a little fun at the traditionally stilted, shallow, and sanitized corporate response to wrongdoing offered a welcome release from reality.

From a gloriously awkward live-streamed press conference, to individual fan apologies splashed across Times Square, to an open letter 16 feet in length, our absurdly personal displays of remorse put core Skittles back on the radar and back into consumers' repertoires.

Execution

To launch the campaign, we did what any apologetic corporation would do: stage a press conference. But instead of a boilerplate statement of contrition, we turned our presser into a 35-minute livestream of apologies to individual lime-lover complaints.

We teased the announcement with :15 paid media across OLV and social channels, and live-streamed it on Twitch & TikTok.

To make amends with the rest of the 130,000+ lime-lovers, we individually apologized to each of them on social media. And continued to acknowledge their angst and communicate our remorse as publicly as possible – with apologies in Times Square, in print ads, and via an open letter more than 16 feet in length, calling out every last person who had complained, by name.

Finally, to compensate lime-lovers for their pain and suffering, we also created a microsite where they could claim their own pack of “Apology Skittles.”

Outcome

7.4% lift in $ sales for Skittles core items, YoY

Skittles exceeded the benchmark in core item dollar sales and recorded the highest US core sales in the brand’s history.

Like many businesses dealing with rising commodities costs, 2022 also saw retail prices rise for Skittles – contributing to this dollar sales momentum. The results achieved by this program, however, are worthy of recognition especially given the decreased levels of distribution and display for core Skittles items overall: despite 15.2% fewer total points of core item distribution, the brand still outperformed its dollar sales benchmark and achieved its highest core sales in history.

+14.9% YoY lift in units of core Skittles items, per point of distribution

Velocity growth of core Skittles items outpaced both the total Skittles franchise (+12.4%) and was more than 2x the rate of growth for the Fruity Confections category as a whole (+6.2%)

100% positive/neutral sentiment in coverage

The program drove 28MM earned impressions and over 40 earned media placements, including two features in Fast Company – one of them a retrospective on “Brand Apologies” as a whole.

162% increase in Lime Skittles social mentions, YoY

We saw Lime Skittles social mentions more than double vs. their previous year high, as the interest in our restaged core items continued to grow. On Twitter, specifically – Skittles’ most active community – total brand mentions also grew +400% in the campaign’s first week.

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