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By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

March 11, 2024 | 7 min read

We sit down with Colin Selikow, the most-awarded ECD in the world last year, to hear what went into the most-awarded campaign in the world last year.

A decade ago, Skittles caused outrage when it changed the flavor of its green candy from lime to apple. Citrus supporters around the world took to social media with their hyperbolic grievances for the Mars-owned brand, which generally went along the lines of “This is the worst day of my life” and “You are dead to me.”

Over the following nine years, every time Skittles put out any kind of promotion, the comment section would fire up again, demanding it “bring back lime,” says Colin Selikow, who has just been promoted to the chief creative officer at DDB Chicago. In total, his team reckons there were around 180,000 tweets from outraged lime lovers.

The confectionery company took note and, in 2019, decided to bring back the much-missed flavor. “Things started to intersect most perfectly,” the creative tells us. “We thought if we are going to be bringing back lime, why not do something about this passionate group of fans who have been telling us to do this for so long? We could do something meaningful for them, listen to them and then respond to them in a real way.”

Things had to be done in a very Skittles way, he says, the brand’s superpower being its absurdity.

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Every single person who had voiced their dismay with the change got a response from the brand. “I think if we’d done this but only half-assed it and apologized to some people or issued more of a blanket apology, then it wouldn’t have been as funny or as sincere or even as weird. It’s Skittles; we want it to be absurd.”

Logistically, of course, that was a bit of a nightmare and the project took around a year in total. First of all, the team had to find all the messages, which they did via social listening. X was also a great help to the agency at that time, helping to make connections between the posters and the brand.

Then, each post had to be vetted and DDB Chicago began grouping them into different sections within a spreadsheet due to the content nature. One section was dubbed ‘trust issues,’ another was around ‘happiness dying’ and there was even one called ‘evil winning.’ Selikow laughs that it was the first time he had used Excel for a creative campaign.

Despite being the person spearheading this apology campaign, Selikow is unable to say why Skittles got rid of lime in the first place, saying that it has become “folklore” within the business. “The people who are currently there, no one ever could explain exactly why. But for whatever reason, they did it; it was one of those corporate decisions that just happens.”

Whatever the truth, turning the backlash into a positive moment and flipping the anger to show how much passion people have for Skittles was a masterstroke.

Selikow says that as the team went through each tweet, there could sometimes be a touch of hesitance from the client when messages were a bit too negative. That, however, was exactly the point; the angrier the better. Thankfully DDB Chicago has a long history with Skittles, so there is a lot of agency-client trust.

“I need to give credit to our client and partners on this because I think a lot of clients would have said ‘no.’ It was such a great lightbulb moment for us and allowed us to go there, you know? Which I think was kind of awesome.”

There are very few brands in the world that would have been able or willing to pull this off. As Selikow puts it, sometimes it’s about giving people a break from common sense and Skittles understands where it stands within culture.

“What we’re competing with now is the internet at large. It’s not like we’re just competing with different ads or traditional media; we’re competing with everything now for people’s attention.”

The best way, in Selikow’s mind, for brands to engage with people is through humor. It’s something the agency has found to be incredibly effective in getting consumers to be receptive to advertising. A lime U-turn approached in an even slightly serious way wouldn’t have cut through and people wouldn’t have engaged with it to the extent that they did.

To coincide with the commentary on X, it was also decided that Skittles would do a fake press conference, live-streamed on Twitch and X, to announce that lime was making its much-wanted return.

“People are waiting for Skittles content, in many ways. There’s just an openness to engage with it and then be part of it.”

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As the most-awards campaign of the past year, Selikow understands the importance of such accolades. He says his team doesn’t set out with the intention of winning awards, but that winning them does mean you’re doing something right.

“We have a strategic DNA that we stuck to and only Skittles could do something like this. That’s what people in the jury rooms are responding to. But I will just say: if this had been well received within the awards community and not so well received by the people who we reached out to and culture at large, I think we would have had a problem. But the fact that it was so well received in culture is the reason that won awards as well.”

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