Brands Need To Be More Respectful Of Celebrity Deaths


Memorial for Prince

















2016 is turning into a devastating year for the music world. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard and most recently, the legendary Prince. I, along with much of the world, am heartbroken at the loss of such immense talent. After news of Prince’s passing broke, radio and TV stations paid tribute with Prince marathons, musicians performed Prince covers, and purple covered the land. And with any celebrity death, comes the inevitable awkward tributes from different brands and companies.

In the age of social media, people use Facebook and Twitter as a place to express grief and sympathy and share memories of those who have been lost. This has become the norm. But brands have taken it too far – often posting awkward or even tasteless tributes to passing celebrities. As a social media manager, I get it – the constant drive to stay current and participate in trending topics. When you hit the jackpot with a great viral post, the results can be huge engagement, but when you fail, the damage to your brand’s reputation could be irreparable.
Most recently, with Prince’s passing, brands tried to join the conversation online, mostly with purple-themed tributes. But many failed in their attempts. Cheerios tweeted “Rest in peace” on a purple background but included a Cheerio to dot the “I”. Hamburger Helper, meanwhile, tweeted a photo of Prince with the caption, “Prince was the don of Minneapolis. Respect to the home team. A glove can only take so much sadness.” Twitter reactions were harsh and both were deleted quickly, but screen shots extend the life of these posts. The problem with both of these? Too much brand presence. Other brands that proved more successful were able to pull off simple, thoughtful messages that didn’t come off as exploitative.

Perhaps these tweets really were posted by a fan who was mourning the loss. Perhaps it was a social media manager who was trying too hard to capitalize on the popular topic. No matter what the motivation was, brands need to be more careful about what they say online.

We all mourn in our own way. But I offer these 2 simple rules when posting about a celebrity death.
1. DO post a simple heartfelt tribute or express sympathy
2. DON’T make it about the brand or selling a product
In this case, less is more. Brands can be human and show grief. But lay off the product placement condolences. Show some respect to the person, and in turn, people will respect your company more.