Brand Recognition in the Wake of Tragedy

I’m sure we’ve all heard many, many details about the Trayvon Martin murder by now. While the case continues to unfold each day, one unlikely component has been receiving widespread attention.

On February 26th, Trayvon Martin was gunned down and with him he had two products we all know well – Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. The New York Times has reported that sales for Skittles have gone up after the shooting. It’s safe to assume that given the social connotations, Arizona Iced Tea has also profited.

Like the hooded sweatshirt that has fast become a symbol of youth and innocence in the Martin case, the candy and iced tea has also been elevated to a cultural symbol indicating social injustice.

As news of the profits spread, people are taking it to the realm of social media to get their point across.

This begs the question, what would you do if your brand inadvertently gets placed in the spotlight due to a horrific tragedy?

Other brands in the past have had the misfortune of being caught in the midst of public turmoil such as the “Twinkie Defense” from the Harvey Milk murder and the infamous “Drink the Kool-Aid” reference that was linked to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978. Flavor-Aid was identified as the actual drink used for the latter incident though Kool-Aid was impacted negatively due to the error. Kool-Aid especially seems to have weathered through the hard times but it’s hard to say how Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea will hold out given the fast-as-lightning spread of communication that is social media.

Both brands have issued sympathetic yet impartial public responses but inevitably, it becomes a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation” where sitting on the sidelines is viewed as unsympathetic but becoming involved actively can also be viewed as opportunistic.  So what do you do?

1. Hire a good PR firm.  Cases like this go way beyond the brand; crisis management is critical.

2. Tread lightly.  Be aware and sympathetic. Everything can get taken out of context in some way.

3. Be patient. Hopefully with time people will forget about the negative press. Until then, act professional and genuine.

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