2016 has been the year of the Grim Reaper, especially for celebrity deaths of global significance. In January, David Bowie’s unexpected death was announced 3 days after his album Blackstar was released. In April, Prince’s equally unexpected death came just days after playing 2 solo piano sets in Atlanta consisting of over 40 songs.
The deaths of these icons elicited an outpouring of emotion and mourning across the internet. Brands were placed in a sticky scenario though – if they didn’t acknowledge the deaths they were seen as lacking compassion, but if they acknowledged the deaths in the wrong way they faced a life sentence from the court of public opinion. It was a catch-22 scenario that they needed to get right.
It seemed that a more than a handful of brands didn’t necessarily think through the implications of their reactions. Two have been picked out for this post, but there were many more. Crocs’ tweet to acknowledge the death of Bowie was a textbook example of uneccesarily shoehorning a product into a moment of rememberance. What has Bowie got to do with Crocs? This commentator’s tweet sums everything up nicely:
It might seem to some that none of this really matters, but to me it shows how some brands’ social media strategies are totally misunderstanding the medium and how to use it to communicate. Not every interaction needs to be about the brand; imagine having a conversation with a friend where they constantly slip in a tagline at every possible moment?
The effort below comes from Cheerios, who decided to post a more subtle but equally uneccesary tweet after Prince’s death. This shows how these reactions aren’t overtly offensive, but are morally questionable and totally pointless. There is simply no need to associate a brand with a death. Instead of thinking of these events as moments to resonate, brands should try to do the opposite and post no-frills tributes that are devoid of controversy but full with compassion and poigniancy.
So what is the solution when these kinds of event take place? The answer seems to lie in distancing brands, products or services from the death and producing a genuine, heart-felt tribute with no products, logos or links in sight. The celebrities in question were very rarely associated with these companies in life, so why should they be in death?
This also solves the issue of why I think brands make huge mis-steps in these scenarios – a lack of preparedness or foresight. Deaths often come out of the blue, so there isn’t enough time to create a witty and relevant response. What results is a half-hearted and contrived attempt that comes across as a bid to profit from death instead of expressing sympathy.
A simple and genuine tribute can be made in minutes. Death shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity, but a moment for rememberence and reflection no matter how much profit is at stake.