Living The Rainbow

Sheep with human faces, a teenage boy with blender-hands and tree-munching lumberjacks—these are just a few of the outrageous characters featured in a campaign of eight Skittles TV spots that have aired since July 2004 and recently won the agency that created the imaginative campaign, TBWA\ Chiat\Day in New York, a Bronze Lion at the 52nd International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France.

The spots are bizarre and attention-getting, but have they enticed teenagers to “Experience the rainbow,” as the campaign suggests?


For a decade, Masterfoods USA relied on the tagline “Taste the rainbow” and commercials featuring magical fantasy worlds inhabited by mystical wizards and the like to sell Skittles to teenagers, a strategy conjured up by the now-defunct D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Skittles’ agency from the brand’s launch 20 years ago until 2002, when the New York agency closed its doors.

Much of the brand’s advertising featured characters magically creating a rainbow and Skittles shower: A farmer planted a handful of the candy pieces, and a rainbow burst out of the ground to create a Skittles shower. Even an icy tundra was able to grow Skittles when trekkers plopped a few pieces into an ice hole. Each tale ended with the “Taste the rainbow” tag, whispered in most of the spots by a young girl.

In May 2002, Masterfoods USA moved the Skittles account to BBDO New York. In an attempt to make the enchanted-world theme more contemporary, several spots were produced showing teens manipulating their surroundings with the candy. In one spot, a girl controls the sun’s movement using her yellow Skittles. A year and a half later, Masterfoods shuffled its agency brand assignments and shifted the Skittles business to TBWA, which also handles Masterfoods brands Starburst and Combos.


Teens ages 13 to 17 eat the most nonchocolate candy, according to Harry Balzer, president of research firm The NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. So, they remained Skittles target demographic. “We focus on a creative bull’s-eye of a 16-year-old teen, knowing that kids aspire to the behavior and attitude of those who are older,” says TBWA account director Lisa Liebman.

While the core target hasn’t changed, TBWA executive creative director Gerry Graf says the agency recognized there was a need to update Skittles’ advertising to appeal to today’s teens. But it was also important to hold on to certain elements that were already working for the brand. “One of Skittles’ great equities has always been the fantasy and the magic of the rainbow,” Graf says.

The agency produced a video of imagery they believed constituted fantasy and magic to teens today. It included clips from the Spike Jonze-directed Fatboy Slim music video “Weapon of Choice,” which finds actor Christopher Walken dancing alone in a hotel, and the Traktor-directed Basement Jaxx music video “Where’s Your Head At?”, which blends man and monkey. That video was then shown to teens at Cincinnati malls. Their positive reaction “set the stage for where we think Skittles—and again, their equity in magic and fantasy—should be today,” Graf says.

The brand includes Original Fruit Skittles, Sour Skittles, Tropical Skittles, Wild Berry Skittles and the two most recent additions, Skittles Bubble Gum, introduced in June 2004, and Smoothie Mix Skittles, introduced in January 2005. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, media spending for Skittles was $26 million last year. The brand has spent an estimated $14 million on advertising from January to May 2005.


After three months of qualitative research, TBWA created a campaign that brings a sort of wizardry into the real world. The spots encourage teenagers not to just “Taste the rainbow,” but to “Experience the rainbow.” “Skittles is very much a multisensory experience, so it’s not just about taste,” explains Martyn Wilks, vp, Snackfood Division, Masterfoods USA, a unit of privately held Mars Inc. “It’s about seeing. It’s about feeling. It’s about hearing, even about believing.”

One spot, “Sittin’ on a Rainbow,” finds three teens on a rainbow, high above the ground. “Hey, what if this rainbow doesn’t exist, and it’s just in our imagination?” one boy asks. Cut to the rainbow opening beneath him and the kid plummeting toward earth, while his non-questioning friends remain comfortably perched. The spot concludes with the tagline: “Believe the rainbow. Taste the rainbow.”

In another, “Yep,” a girl asks a boy if she can have a piece of his Skittles Bubble Gum. He says, “No,” blows a bubble and floats into the sky, with the tagline, “Inflate the rainbow. Taste the rainbow.” And “Sheepboys,” which has two sheep with human faces devouring Smoothie Mix Skittles off a tree stump, features the tagline, “Blend the rainbow. Taste the rainbow.”

Some of the hippest commercial directors in the ad business, including Martin Granger, Ulf Johansson and the directing team Happy, worked on the brand, which relies almost entirely on TV advertising. “TV is the primary vehicle because it provides the greatest reach and frequency [to] Skittles’ target audience,” Liebman says. The spots run during teen-skewing shows such as the WB’s Everwood, Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill, Fox’s That 70s Show and MTV’s The Ten Spot. They also air in cinemas.

There is no online advertising for Skittles, according to Liebman, though the spots are featured on the Skittles Web site. “The main purpose of online advertising is to drive people to the Web site. With traffic to the Skittles site already increasing, we are realizing this benefit without a dedicated online effort,” Liebman says. While many consumers seem to be going to the Skittles site on their own, they are also directed to the Web site via mentions of the address on Skittles packaging and in-store promotional materials, Liebman notes.


Masterfoods USA won’t comment on specific sales data, but Masterfoods’ Wilks reports the brand has seen double-digit sales increases since the campaign’s introduction last July.

According to Information Resources Inc. in Chicago, which uses UPC scanner data obtained at supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers—excluding Wal-Mart, movie theaters, newsstands and vending machines—Skittles saw retail sales grow 10 percent to nearly $80 million for the year ending July 10, 2005. Packaged Facts publisher Don Montuori says that’s particularly notable given full-year sales for Skittles from 2003 to 2004 were flat, registering just a 1 percent increase from the previous year. It’s also significant since overall retail sales for nonchocolate candy have been on a steady decline the last five years; Packaged Facts estimates overall retail sales of such candy have shrunk from $5.9 billion in 2000 to $5.3 billion in 2004.

In addition to an increase in sales, Skittles has enjoyed a surge in unaided awareness of the brand over the last year. “Amongst Skittles’ core consumers, unaided awareness [provided by research company Ipsos-ASI] has increased three points from a very high level in the first place,” Wilks says. “That’s a significant, measurable impact since the advertising started.”

Additionally, Wilks says, traffic to the Skittles Web site has increased by 37 percent since the beginning of the “Experience the rainbow” campaign. “We’ve got a lot of evidence [this advertising] is working for us,” he says.