The constant flow of tragedies in 2016 has come with the usual efforts of brands attempting to insert themselves into the discussion. It’s almost become expected of people to give some input on victims of terrible events and fallen icons of the past through their social media, and businesses focused on social selling are no strangers to taking part. However, there is a very fine line that must be walked and oftentimes what some brands may find to be a fitting tribute has actually crossed into tasteless self promotion and is now an arena for public ridicule.

There seems to have been so many poor attempts throughout 2016 of this tactic that the most recent commemoration, the passing of actor Gene Wilder was given a quite dignified response by the big brand names, with the object of ridicule being a bizarre tribute by professional surfer Kelly Slater .

Many of the Wilder tributes came in the form of tweets that understated the brand, simple tributes to a man who brought joy to millions. The most obvious connection of his iconic role as Willy Wonka and its obvious connection to candy being acknowledged by brands such as Godiva, who simply tweeted “Thank you Gene Wilder for making chocolate truly magical, the original Willy Wonka”. No hashtags no branding, just a recognition of the man and his passing.


That is how it’s done. In today’s marketing brands are so concerned with engaging users and being a part of the cultural zeitgeist, that they will latch themselves onto the latest trending topic and the numbers associated with it, without taking a moment to reflect on what they are saying and how it will be perceived by a sensitive public that won’t hesitate to rake a tone-deaf attempt through the coals.

Two of these examples can be found in responses to the passing of Prince and David Bowie earlier in the year. When Prince passed, Cheerios responded by very likely dusting off a template for such occasions and tweeted “Rest in peace” over a purple background, with the I in “in” dotted with a Cheerio, with the message simply “#prince”. From the bubble of the General Mills marketing department, this seemed like a fine way to take part in the flood of tributes pouring out at the time, but that’s not what the public felt. The tweet was widely ridiculed as a crude cash in, forcing the brand to delete the tweet and issue a statement.




The shoe company Crocs fell into the same hole only weeks before, after the passing of David Bowie. Following the same logic, they simply edited Bowie’s signature lightning bolt over an image of one of their white signature shoes with the message, “Your magic will be missed, but your inspiration lives forever #DavidBowie”. The same public response followed, with most incredulous as to why Crocs, a shoemaker that focuses on a very utilitarian product, would associate themselves with someone who would never have any part of them if alive.




Contrast this to Chevrolet’s response to Prince’s death. An image of their red Corvette, an image almost synonymous with Prince, with the re imagined lyric of “Baby, that was much too fast” and 1958-2016. A fitting tribute from a brand that already had a strong association with the artist, and was commended as such by the public. Similar to the efforts by Godiva, and executed in an even better fashion, Chevrolet were able to toe that line.




In all honesty these social media efforts do very little to move the needle in terms of sales. It’s an effort to stay in the public consciousness, but when they enter too much into the hive mind of a fickle public, particularly on political or other divisive issues, most digital sellers find them to be more trouble than benefit. You have to learn to not force anything, or at least create the appearance of doing so, and allowing the opportunity to come to you. Make sure that you are providing a clever take that will bring in users, such as Oreo’s famous “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet during the much more Superbowl blackout in 2013, one of the earliest examples of taking advantage of an opportunity to insert themselves into the conversation.




Above all, take a serious look at the environment you are posting in and what the topic is truly about. This resulted in perhaps the worst offense of this nature, pizza company Digiorno inserting itself into a discussion on domestic abuse by responding to the trending topic of “#WhyIStayed” with the response “You had pizza”.

You can’t just rely on common sense in this process, it has already failed a countess number of times. Create a list of brand guidelines that will prevent your social media marketers from embarrassing themselves and your business. Resist the temptation of the numbers and create a standard to build your brand in the image of what you want it to be, not of one warped by trends.

Godiva, Cheerios, Crocs, Chevrolet and Digiorno are all established brands. The good helped and the bad was eventually put aside. Small up and coming business aren’t granted the same luxury.


Terrence Smith

Terrence Smith

Terrence has previously written articles for Basketball Ireland, Creative Loafing and Hot Press. He is currently a content writer for Connectors Marketplace.


Terrence Smith

Posted by Terrence Smith

Terrence has previously written articles for Basketball Ireland, Creative Loafing and Hot Press. He is currently a content writer for Connectors Marketplace.

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