Purple Rain and Public Relations

Last week the world lost another icon when Prince died on Thursday morning. Almost immediately the tributes started rolling in for this wonderful man many felt they knew personally. And almost as immediately as the tributes started, so did the criticism of brands who seemingly capitalized on Prince’s death in a way not pleasing to some.

The criticism left me wondering if there is a double (or more) standard. Are some brands held to different standards than others? Take, as an example, Chevrolet and General Mills.

One is being lauded as a good example of brand paying tribute while the other received so much criticism they removed the tribute from social media. Yet, both have respectful messages and feature an example of their product. In fact, one could argue that General Mills’ product is featured in a lower key manner than the Corvette.

In addition, General Mills’ headquarters is in Prince’s hometown so there’s a stronger connection. 3M also turned their logo purple with a drop of rain in the logo, yet there was no backlash there.

What could have caused the backlash against General Mills? As communications counselors, we offer the best advice we can but sometimes reaction just hits from left field. In this case it’s likely the consumer was emotionally connected to Prince and the Corvette via one of the artist’s songs, yet did not recognize the local connection to Cheerios.

I’m left wondering if some of the reaction to the Cheerios tribute is related to consumer perceptions of the brand. They have been under attack recently for the GMO products in the foods they manufacture. So, there’s a portion of consumers already predisposed to disliking them. This might make them more susceptible to attacks from the social media mob.

Companies need to be very careful with responses to events such as a celebrity’s death or a national news event. This is only the latest example and leads many to wonder if brands have any place in responding to tragedies. I advise that it’s a very fine line over which companies step very cautiously, if at all.

On the other hand, brands can prepare themselves to continue to be successful by regularly doing good in their communities. The second step in this, though, is making sure your constituency groups know what you’re doing. Public relations professionals are critical in this area as they can tell the stories of community giving through the eyes of those who benefit. It’s not so much a press release about the quantity of gift, but instead stories of those who’ve received the aid and benefitted from the generosity. It’s also creating a culture of philanthropy so employees know and understand their part in helping their community and their company’s connection.

Building community is an important aspect of my life and something I regularly counsel clients about. I truly believe that it takes a village to do nearly everything today but we can each do our part to help.

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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