Genuine vs. Opportunistic: When Brands React to Tragedy


As many industry professionals and peanut fans likely already know, Planters suspended their #RIPeanut campaign after the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash last weekend.

If you haven’t seen the #RIPeanut campaign yet, the snack brand killed off its iconic mascot, Mr. Peanut, in a teaser for its official ad during the Big Game. The brand even went as far as to temporarily change the name of Mr. Peanut’s twitter account to The Estate of Mr. Peanut in an effort to drum up social engagement and buzz ahead of the Super Bowl.

Following the news of NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s untimely death, Planters announced that it “has paused all campaign activities, including paid media, and will evaluate next steps through a lens of sensitivity to those impacted by this tragedy” per a statement cited in AdAge last week.

This decision by executives was likely fueled by the fact that the promoted #RIPeanut tweets juxtaposed against tweets about Kobe were not a great look for the brand. However, unlike other campaigns, such as the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad released in 2017, Planters proactively paused the campaign ahead of any public backlash.

This quick reaction displayed a genuine understanding of the sensitivities surrounding Kobe’s death. Perhaps more importantly for Planters, the speedy response resulted in a positive reaction from the public which has kept what was meant to be a funny and lighthearted campaign from becoming a PR blunder.

On Sunday, Planters aired the #RIPeanut commercial as originally planned, featuring Mr. Peanut’s funeral and the “birth” of Baby Nut, who is expected to become the next mascot for the brand.

So far, public sentiment around the campaign has remained positive, which is likely the result of Planters’ quick reaction and sensitivity following last week’s tragedy.

The Takeaway

Increasingly, we see consumer brands creating topical ads to insert themselves into social/timely conversations – like this 2017 Anheuser- Busch/Budweiser ad about immigration – in an effort to increase brand recognition and reach new stakeholders. The Kobe news is no exception.

A recently published New York Times article comments on just how many brands have put out statements about Kobe in the last week. Most brand reactions have been tactful, but a few have been called out for being opportunistic in the face of a tragic moment in time.

All of this connects us back to a critical discussion within the industry:

Where do brands fit in when tragedy strikes?