22.04.2016 How should brands pay tribute to dead celebrities?

When a celebrity or public figure dies it’s natural for people to want to pay tribute to them and the legacy they leave behind.

And 2016 has been quite the year for celebrity deaths; it’s only April and already the BBC has run twice as many obituaries in the first three months of the year as it did in the same period last year.

The latest big name to leave us is pop music superstar Prince, who died yesterday aged 57.

As you would expect, people across the world have taken to social media to express their shock and sadness at the news and to share what Prince and his music meant to them.

Brands have also got involved in the conversation to varying extents and with varying degrees of success.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.17.17 Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.20.20

But while some brands have managed to post subtle and sincere tributes, others have been accused of jumping on the bandwagon and using the news as an opportunity to promote themselves and their products.

At best these efforts have been awkward and misguided, at worst the brands have been attacked for being “cynical” and “exploitative”.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.19.56

Cheerios’ tribute tweet was accused of being “tasteless” and prompted widespread disdain and anger. It was later deleted.


…as was this one from DIY brand Homebase, which awkwardly combined a promotional message with a tribute added as an afterthought.

The same thing happened after David Bowie’s death in January. Shoe brand Crocs was forced to delete its tribute tweet within half an hour of posting after a backlash.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.31.45

Relationships and reputations

When brands are trying to build relationships with their existing and potential customers by engaging on social media, it is inevitable that they are going to want to get involved in cultural conversations like those around a celebrity death.

But sometimes it’s worth pausing to ask some important questions first, such as when is it appropriate to get involved and to what extent?

A brand paying a simple, subtle and genuine tribute to a dead celebrity is likely to reap the respect of fans.

But a brand using the occasion to seek attention or promote a product is only going to reap a whirlwind of derision that could ultimately damage its reputation.

What do you think? Which brands have got it wrong when paying tribute to dead celebrities, and which have got it right? Let us know @Brightercomms