When a beloved celebrity dies, what is a brand to do?


First Ziggy Stardust then Professor Snape. A rubbish start to the year, and clearly God’s ploy to create the ultimate superhero group.

We all came across the news in slightly different variations on the same tune, online, via Facebook, Twitter, or a news website. It came hard and fast and left many bereft, shocked and in denial as they processed the passing of their icons.

With heavy hearts we posted our odes on social media, sharing songs, videos, memes and photos. But buried within the posts from friends were posts from brands. From Financial Planning companies to Crocs, everyone had a say.

Perhaps this is my scepticism talking, but I saw a lot of these posts as cynical ploys for brand engagement. Take a look at Marc Jacobs, who tweeted a photo of David Bowie in some far-out pants. As a fashion brand I assumed there was a connection between the two; I was wrong, it was just Marc Jacobs adding their noise to the social media static.

marc jacobs bowieEven more troublesome was SuperDry who posted a close up of a shirt emblazoned with the Bowie Bolt. Regardless whether or not this was a new t-shirt range, the lack of connection to Bowie the man himself made their post seem inauthentic and pointless. Did we really care what SuperDry thought that night?

superdry bowie

At the minimum these posts are tacky and a poor attempt at attention seeking at a time of real grief and pain. At their worst they are damaging to the brand and leave consumers with a bad taste.

The question for brands is: is it ever a good idea to engage during a time of grief?

A brand itself cannot grieve, but we must remember that there are real people behind those social media handles. As part of the OMD team that posts on social media on behalf of the company, I was tempted to add OMD’s tribute to Bowie the day he died.

I merely wanted to say with a post, that we, the people of OMD, grieve with you. But I refrained. It was not the time nor place to add our voice into the mix.

Without a genuine connection to something, a brand can shoot itself in the foot by trying to be in every conversation all the time. The bottom line is, don’t use a tragedy to promote your brand or product. Sometimes silence is golden.

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