Why do brands distastefully honour celebrity deaths?

Is there ever a good way for a corporate brand to mark the death of a fallen icon?

In the wake of the untimely death of pop icon Prince, the world began to mourn with tributes being paid far and wide. Most were fitting and meaningful, some however were tasteless and left many people asking why brands continue to do this.

Celebrity deaths are a sad but regular occurrence. The BBC has increased their celebrity obituaries by almost 500% in just four years. In this, the age of social media, people around the world can share their stories and connect with others, but it has also paved the way for some brands to awkwardly attempt to honour fallen icons.

A time and place

Through social media, brands are reaching audiences and consumers in ways previously unimaginable, and when they get it right it can be extremely rewarding. Perhaps the best example of this came from Oreo, when they won the internet during the Super Bowl blackout of 2013.

Since then, brands have become increasingly aware of the power this can yield. Where executed appropriately, this can strike a chord with audiences. Take for example The New Yorker, a weekly cultural magazine who paid homage to Prince in the most perfect way.

On the flip-side however, many corporate brands try to ‘capitalise’ on big events whenever the opportunity presents itself. But can this come at a price?

Judging by the Twitter reactions to tweets from brands such as Cheerios and Homebase, the answer is a resounding yes.

Cheerios tweeted a ‘Rest in peace’ message on a purple background, replacing the dot on the ‘i’ with a single cheerio. This reaction wasn’t great, to say the least, and they removed it just as quickly. But by then the damage was done.

Even more bizarre, the Homebase Customer Services Team tweeted a message this morning which was met with widespread condemnation. The tweet has since been removed and Homebase “sincerely apologise for any offence this has caused”.

But is there 'no such thing as bad publicity'? The above mentioned tweets have since been deleted, with the brands in question desperately seeking to distance themselves as quickly as possible, which in itself argues that they may have misjudged this one. And badly at that.

The advice to those looking to use the death of a celebrity for some brand promotion... Don’t.