What happened: Sex symbol and music icon Prince was found dead in an elevator in his Minnesota home on April 21. Grieving friends and fans quickly took to social media to express their sorrows over the loss. The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince painted the world purple in his passing, but when consumer brands decided to enter the conversation many fans expressed disapproval. Cheerios was one of the first to comment on the tragedy by Tweeting a simple purple graphic reading “Rest in peace.” with a Cheerio-dotted i and a caption of “#prince”. Tweeters mocked the cereal company and accused the brand of exploiting a tragedy. The tweet was taken down, but screenshots ran rampant.
What this means for brands: While inserting your brand into a global conversation seems intuitive to most marketers, relevance, voice and sincerity are defining factors when addressing a touchy subject, especially death. Prince was known as the pioneer of Minneapolis sound, and many Minnesota brands found appropriate ways to express their condolences. Others, such as Cheerios and Getty Images, used the misfortune to promote their products. Instead of celebrating a lifetime of talent and mourning the loss of a legend, these brands portrayed the passing to be nothing more to them than a trend and an opportunity. The lesson learned is one that should be first and foremost in the minds of all content creators: Being relevant is great, but being human is more important.