A strange phenomenon has emerged over the last couple decades, with corporations increasingly feeling the need to weigh in during moments of nationwide news. Although it was flirted with in the past, the movement can probably be traced to the unsettling days after 9/11 — brilliantly spoofed by an Onion article title “Dinty Moore Breaks Long Silence On Terrorism With Full-Page Ad.”
But it’s a dangerous game, littered with tales of some success, and others that completely backfired. With seemingly every major corporation having some sort of “voice” on social media, the opportunities have only become more dangerous.
In the days after Prince’s April 21 death, two major brands were willing to touch the third rail of a recent, beloved celebrity’s demise. But why was Cheerios attempt roundly despised, while Chevy’s earned nothing but praise? Below, five lessons corporate America should learn from this day-and-night response to the same news event.
Keep it on topic
One of Prince’s most memorable songs is his 1983 hit “Little Red Corvette.” So, when Chevy bought full-page ads in six newspapers depicting a classic crimson Chevy Corvette and the words: “Baby that was much too fast, 1958-2016,” it struck the right note.
As far as we know, Prince never wrote a song about Cheerios, so the cereal’s attempt to link itself with him seemed opportunistic. Also, the “Prince” brand is most closely associated with such things as seduction, fast-living and funkiness. Not pulverized oat children’s cereals in the shape of a torus.
It’s not about yourself
“We didn’t want to make the piece about Chevrolet,” Craig Daitch, an advertising spokesman for Chevrolet, tells USA Today about their ad, which was reportedly put together in about three hours. “This was a tribute to Prince and Prince fans.” Sure enough, nowhere in the ad do the names “Chevrolet” or “GM” appear, and they don’t have to.
Cheerios, meanwhile, used their little cereal nugget as the centerpiece of the entire ad. The words “Rest in Peace” were surely chosen over other messages because they contain an “i,” and the lone Cheerio was meant to catch your eye since the rest of the ad was so minimal.
Make it grand
Everybody knows that newspapers are old-fashioned, but there’s also a certain class and respectability that old media still contains. Also, a full-page ad provides a greater canvas than a simple tweet. Chevy’s move was a grand gesture, while Cheerios’ felt like something an intern would half-heartedly throw together.
Celebrate the life, not the death
Who was the ad executive that thought people would see an ad saying “Rest in Peace” and then go “Hey, I wanna have a bowl of cereal”?
On the other hand, Chevy’s ad makes you think of Prince’s essence. He lived fast, embodied the essence of an eternal party, and sang about such. If you’re the type of person who would buy a Corvette, this kind of YOLO message might just push you into it.
Hold a beat
Although a handful of hours may seem inconsequential under normal circumstances, Chevy was smart to wait two calendar days to unveil their newspaper tribute, after dipping their toe in the water online. At that point, the news has begun to sink in and rather than tragedy, people begin wanting to focus on tribute.
Cheerios, meanwhile, seems to have posted their message (which was deleted soon after) about 2-3 hours after news broke of Prince’s passing. Lots of times on social media, a rapid response is essential — but when people are just logging on to Twitter to see what’s happening in the world, the last thing they want is to get breaking news from a breakfast cereal.