On Friday 2/27/09, Skittles surrendered itself to the Zeitgeist. Visits to Skittles.com led users directly to Wikipedia (later changed to a Twitter search for “skittles,” then to the official Facebook fan page), and attempts to explore the site navigation—little more than a pop-up—guided users elsewhere still: flickr, YouTube, Summize.

The experiment in surrendering the entire brand entirely to users—orchestrated by Agency.com, inspired by Modernista—drove interest in the Skittles brand through the roof! On Monday 3/2/09, “skittles” was mentioned in about 1% of tweets on Twitter.

Boy, does that sound dreamy! A figure like that is fit to make any sane brand want to trade places with Skittles in an instant.

But wait! That’s not the whole story.

Bored with lavish brand love, and eager to exercise their power on a piece of Americana, users on Twitter began badmouthing Skittles late Tuesday afternoon. As expected, all that ill will appeared in freeform across the skittles.com “homepage” (which at the time pointed to a real-time Twitter search for “skittles”). By day’s end, the humbled (and smart!) brand yanked itself out of users’ fickle arms and pointed its homepage to Facebook.

What’s the lesson here? Simple: Don’t be afraid to let users help shape your brand, but remember it is still your brand. As in any healthy relationship, sometimes even prospects need a little pushback.

Be a good brand-parent. Part of maintaining a strong brand identity is knowing when to put your foot down!