Companies faced minefield when commenting on Prince death

This was, the experts say, a beautiful ad placed in the nation’s newspapers today in the wake of the death of Prince.

prince-tribute-chevy-hed-2016

The consensus is this tweet from 3M hit the mark, thanks mostly to a well-placed teardrop. Or maybe it was rain.

But this one, from General Mills, was a swing and a miss.


“As a Minnesota brand, Cheerios wanted to acknowledge the loss of a musical legend in our hometown. But we quickly decided that we didn’t want the tweet to be misinterpreted, and removed it out of respect for Prince and those mourning,” the company said in a statement.

“Cheerios was not even the most egregious,” says Nathan Eide, the director of emerging media at Bolin Marketing in Minneapolis.

It wasn’t as bad as Four Loko beer, which said in a since-deleted tweet that it was “pouring one out for Prince.”

“It’s a fine line between class and crass,” Eide said. Four Loko and Cheerios “made the brand the story.”

3M didn’t, says Kate-Madonna Hindes, owner of Girl Meets Geek, a communications firm in the Twin Cities.

“It was timely and understanding,” she said. Being a Minnesota company, it reflected what the people of the state were feeling, a credit, she says, to a graphics person “who was really on the ball.”

Hindes says there’s a narrow set of circumstances when companies should wade into the marketing scene on the death of someone. “If you know them or if you have a relationship with them,” she says.

But not if you’re trying to sell something.

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Hindes and Eide agree that the use of the Cheerio tipped the message.

“I think that was probably a great internal discussion,” Hindes says about General Mills, a company that is famously protective of its brands. “Maybe a music note or a teardrop [instead of the Cheerio] or maybe just say nothing at all.”

“If they’d left out the Cheerio over the ‘i’, they would’ve gotten away with it,” Eide adds.

Above all, the marketing has to show the love.

Take this tweet from The Weather Channel:

“It’s touching in a quiet way,” says Eide. “It humanizes the organization. It says it’s not a soulless, baseless corporate entity. It says ‘we understand this thing happened and is impactful in the lives of our employees.'”

Which brings us back to Corvette.

“To get that out so quickly was absolutely incredible,” says Hindes. “It goes back to their leadership. Ads go through so many revisions. I’m constantly looking at revisions and it usually takes two or three months.”

As good as 3M’s tweet was, “Chevrolet wins,” she said when asked to choose between the two.

For companies that swung and missed yesterday, Eide sees it as short-term damage. “It’s more of a Thermite; it burns really hot and then burns out. The mob mentality hits really hard, but as soon as the news cycle ends, people move on to the next thing.”

While both acknowledge that companies’ instinct is to “jump in and be relevant” during breaking news, Hindes says there’s another way a company can respond during days like yesterday.

“Maybe just stay silent,” she said.

(h/t: Meg Martin)