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Why is the Skittles logo on the Modernista site?

A little under a year ago I wrote about the radical re-design of the portfolio site for the agency Modernista. They turned the site into a redirected rollover HTML menu that appears on the top left corner on many established sites including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and Flickr. You can mouse over and check out the agency’s portfolio on Flickr, an about section through Wikipedia, latest agency news through Google New, TV work through YouTube and contact then via AIM or Skype. It had it’s hiccups along the road but it was a pretty cool and unique idea.

So I was cruising through my usual collection of digital designs sites this morning and a screenshot caught my eye for the re-design of the Skittles Web site. After clicking on that screenshot I was asked to enter your age and agree to a terms of service that acknowledges that the content beyond this page is not Skittles content. After hitting enter I was shocked by the realization that I was looking at the Modernista site with a Skittles logo on it. The site had loaded the Skittles’ Wikipedia page with a purple square navigation overlay in the upper left hand corner. As you start to explore you will find that ‘Products’ moves you to the bottom of the Wikipedia page, ‘Friends’ takes you to their Facebook page, ‘Photo’ to Flickr and ‘Chatter’ to their Twitter feed.

For me this is one of those cases where Agency.com, who did the re-design, should have done their homework and known better. Scratch that. We all know they have seen the Modernista site and this isn’t a case where the Skittles site is kind of close to the Modernista but is the closest thing I can remember to a straight rip-off by a major brand. How they didn’t think this would be viewed by current clients, potential clients and potential creative talent as a huge red flag is beyond me. I know times are really hard and we all need business but our industry is better than this.

7 Comments

  1. Sean

    May 17, 2009 at 5:32 am

    I don’t buy the rationale.

    Because an another agency showed them what could be done within the realms of the technology’s capabilities shouldn’t be a reason for Agency.com not to use the technology as the source of an idea for one of their clients.

    Other major brands have not done it before therefore it should be deemed fair game to whoever is able to convince their client that it’s the right route to take. It’s a bold move for Skittles, and Agency.com deserve kudos for being able to sell it to the client.

    Boffswana in Australia pioneered the augumented reality technology but Dare in London managed to take it and sell a concept based on their work to BMW, and have produced a great campaign.

    Now if Adidas went and did their own version of the Skittles site I would consider it a rip.

    Digital Agencies are in the business of marketing to huge brands primarily, not technical innovation. Often they need to be shown the possibilties by smaller, more technology-oriented companies that push the envelope.

    This is the nature of the beast.

  2. Stephen Gates

    May 17, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I could not disagree with you more. Let’s not cloud the issue here and stick to the facts that I was not talking about technology – I was talking about using that technology in an almost identical way to what someone else did with little or no new thought added to it. Boffswana did pioneer the use of the augmented reality technology but BMW didn’t take what they did and make what they did a slightly different color with all the same content. They made something completely new out of it. They thought for themselves and did something that fit the brand of their client. The skittles project was just a slightly different color of what Modernista did and was not a totally new expression of it so for me that argument holds no water. And if Adidas did copy the Skittles site, which they haven’t, then I would after them just as hard for showing an equal amount of disrespect to their client for not giving them their money’s worth.

    I can’t even wrap my head around the thought that digital agencies are so devoid of original thought or talent that they can only have idea when they see them done by someone else and then copy them. What are your clients paying you for then? If you really believe that then that is the scariest thing I have heard in a long, long time.

  3. Sean

    May 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I’m not saying they are devoid of talent or creativity, I’m just saying it’s asking a lot to expect them to pioneer the technology as well. They are being paid to raise the levels of awareness of the Skittles brand and have done so to great effect. If you want to take the moral high-ground and say they still shouldn’t have done it on purely ethical reasons then that’s fine. But they have done what they are paid to do which is to create a positive buzz around the brand in the mind of the consumer. The Modernista site is far too obscure and industry specific to the end user for it to do Skittles any harm. Except obviously to those of us who read your call-out post, but I doubt we make a significant dent.

    Good artists borrow, Great artists steal – Picasso

  4. Stephen Gates

    May 17, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I had no idea that the moral high ground was asking designers to have their own ideas and you shouldn’t steal even if people don’t know about it. I thought that was just being a professional with the ethics and talent to not want to be a xerox machine.

    I would be fascinated to know anything more than an anonymous profile so we all can see where it is you work that supports this line of thinking.

  5. Sean

    May 17, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    It’s a pity I can’t disagree with the view taken in this post without it turning into a personal attack on my character.

    Ironically, I’m an independant technologist that tries to innovate in the world of interactivity, hopefully when large agencies see my work, it’s something new that they haven’t seen elsewhere, and hire me to do the build of a similar idea they’ve pitched to the client.

    I have however worked at several large agencies and they all have this in common, that their Art Directors spend large portions of every day on thefwa.com and similar sites, looking for inspiration.

    Perhaps they change their concept enough to pass as a unique spin on the idea but often it’s more of just another variation on the theme. It’s just being honest to acknowledge this as being the case.

    I will continue to read your blog as I find your posts intelligent and insightful but this will be my last comment as it seems to have turned into being about my personal code of ethics, which shouldn’t be the point.

    Hopefully we can just leave it at that and agree to disagree.

  6. Stephen Gates

    May 20, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I say we chalk it up to this being one of those conversations your shouldn’t have through a media like this.

  7. Pingback: Skittles.com Ends Social Media Experiment | Stephen Gates Blog: Interactive Creative Director - Digital + Online Design, Advertising, Marketing and Branding

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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