Trump, Skittles and the death of real-time marketing

After Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a photo comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of poisoned Skittles, many turned on tweet notifications for the Skittles brand. After all, this was the Mars brand’s Red Lobster-Beyonce moment — on steroids.

But Skittles chose to disengage, instead releasing a statement hours later to media. “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”

Sometimes, even in marketing, discretion is the better part of valor.

Experts say it was the best thing it could have done. PRWeek called it the best corporate response ever. And agency executive who didn’t want to be named because his agency does work with Skittles (although was not involved in this particular incident) said that this was the ideal response on Skittles’ part and completely in line with its zany brand identity.

On Twitter too, those in the business applauded the move. Brandwatch crunched the numbers and found that while sentiment online is split evenly between positive and negative, positive mentions are applauding Mars’ response.

The kerfuffle shows just how dead real-time marketing is. The days of “dunk in the dark” are mostly over. Real-time marketing is rarely discussed at awards shows and industry conferences. Along with that move has come the death of war-rooms at agencies set up just to chase down any pop-culture moment that might be worth a fired off tweet.

Strategically speaking, real-time marketing isn’t long-term. Chasing down a blip can’t be something that clients would buy as a strategy. “I do think the brand newsroom is dead,” said Nadina Guglielmetti, managing director of social media at Huge. “You do see less and less of brands doing less opportunistic marketing.”

Stakes online are also higher. Guglielmetti said that overall, clients are much more cautious about how to spend money. “Content is expensive and it’s harder for brands to stand out, it’s harder to break through.” Legal teams now sit closer to social teams ready to muzzle any over-enthusiastic social media managers.

Customers are also more aware about how the sausage is made, which makes brands less likely to jump in on conversations.

Of course, by all accounts, Skittles was all the internet could think about. According to Brandwatch, Skittles has been mentioned over 262,000 times online since September 13 with over 243,000 mentions coming in the past two days. The Trump Jr. tweet was sent at 7 p.m.:  Skittles saw its mentions increase by over 11,300 percent after that. There were also fake “statements” sent around.

Skittles has been involved in matters far beyond candy before. It was the candy Trayvon Martin was carrying when he was shot by George Zimmerman in 2013, and unwittingly became a symbol of his innocence. At the time too, the brand stayed uninvolved.

“The days of freewheeling around Twitter are over,” said Guglielmetti. “Social media has grown up.”

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