In 2016, a music icon was lost when Prince passed away in late April. With hits like, “1999,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and “Purple Rain,” Prince’s impact on the music industry and on the world is one that will live on forever and will be cherished for years to come.
When the news of Prince’s passing came about, many fans, celebrities, and companies turned to social media to pay their respects by quoting lyrics, reflecting on memories, posting pictures, etc. Of all these posts though, one that mustered up a significant amount of controversy was–surprisingly–Cheerios.
Cheerios turned to Twitter in the mourning of Prince by posting a picture of the words, “Rest in peace.” Written in the classic Cheerios-font with a purple background, the controversy arose when the dot above the “i” was replaced with a Cheerio, just as the brand does with the “i” in their own name. This decision by the company may have seemed light at the time, but was taken as anything but when people came across the tweet just a few hours after Prince’s death had been confirmed (Roche).
At the time of the posting, further knowledge of the deceased and of the brand would have gone a long way. For example, Cheerios was created in 1941 by food science innovator, Lester Borchardt, and was originally called, “Cheerioats” (Cheerios). Just seventeen years later in 1958, Prince Rogers Nelson was born (Biography). What do these two have in common? Their birth place. Both based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota (Biography) (Roche), one can already begin to understand where Cheerios was coming from in their attempts to mourn the loss of an icon; not just to our nation and the world, but to a home in which they share.
As a result of the negative feedback that Cheerios received, they were reluctant to rescind their post and issue an apology to their audience stating that they, “had only wanted to ‘acknowledge the loss of a musical legend in its hometown'” (Roche).
So with some more background information and knowledge of Cheerios’ intentions, it is fair to ask: where did Cheerios go wrong? For starters, Donovan Roche of Fast Company stated it perfectly when he said, “Attempting to capitalize on a high-profile celebrity’s death rarely puts a brand in a positive light–it’s usually deemed tasteless.” In this case, we are aware of the fact that Cheerios had only intended on acknowledging its connection to Prince, but had failed to realize that their audience may not be aware of either the brand’s origins or of Prince’s. This issue could have been resolved by adding more in their tweet other than simply, #prince; this was their second problem.
Although the picture attached to the tweet was meant to be the important part of the message, and using #prince as the actual tweet was used for people to find the content, a simple note of context like, “From our hometown and yours,” or “Minneapolis will miss you,” would have served as more context for the audience than what the original message had portrayed.
Roche goes on to mention in his article that, “a brand is better off either expressing sympathy without incorporating any kind of commercial message, or just avoiding it altogether.” Assuming this tactic is true, one can sympathize with Cheerios in the sense that this loss may have meant more to them than maybe Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms, giving reason for a post to be made. However, Cheerios could have made a strong message by leaving their post as is, only without the actual Cheerio. As it is stated earlier, the words, “Rest in peace,” are already typed in the Cheerios-font, a stamp in itself; the addition of the Cheerio above the “i” only served as a perceived marketing ploy that did not sit well with fans.
In an unfortunate misunderstanding, Cheerios painted themselves as an enemy to many by confusing marketing and mourning, and could have easily avoided any negative commotion by adjusting their message ever so slightly. In the future, this public relations crisis will serve as an excellent example of how not to incorporate the loss of an icon with any commonality with a brand.
Biography. (n.d.). Prince. Retrieved from, https://www.biography.com/people/prince-9447278.
Cheerios. (n.d.). What’s the story behind Cheerios? Retrieved from, http://www.cheerios.com/Articles/Whats-the-story-behind-Cheerios.
Roche, D. (2016, December 20). Lessons from three of 2016’s biggest PR fails. Fast Company. Retrieved from, https://www.fastcompany.com/3066458/lessons-from-three-of-2016s-biggest-pr-fails.
Matt Henkel | GVSU | 3 October 2017