Kobe Bryant’s Death Coincides with Bizarre Advertising Campaign

Brands with Twitter accounts need to take it down a notch #RIPeanut

By Angelina Zervos
Features & Lists Editor

While the rest of the world mourned the loss of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who, along with nine others, passed away in a helicopter crash on January 26th, the Planters Peanuts marketing team scrambled to address backlash from their newest ad campaign. Just days before the tragic Bryant accident, Planters Peanuts uploaded an advertisement to YouTube which depicted the death of their mascot, Mr. Peanut, who dies in a fiery car crash. The team published the ad as the first part of a series that would finish with Mr. Peanut’s funeral during the Super Bowl. However, the resemblance to Bryant’s fiery helicopter crash was uncanny, and many viewers critiqued the strategy, calling it insensitive and tasteless.

While the exceptional circumstances surrounding Kobe Bryant’s death were unforeseeable, the Mr. Peanut incident is demonstrative of a larger problem within the modern-day advertising industry, which is constantly under pressure to create more innovative, more outlandish campaigns in order to garner attention in an ever-growing market of commerce. The Mr. Peanut Twitter account, which now displays the title “The Estate of Mr. Peanut,” created the hashtag, “#RIPeanut” to encourage users to mourn the death of their fictional mascot. While most Twitter users’ feeds were filled with tweets that bore “#RIPKobe,” it was easy to interpret the branding strategy as particularly mocking and disrespectful to those in mourning.

Many other brands were quick to join in on the opportunity to make a clever tweet that could potentially garner thousands of likes and retweets before the advertisement so badly aged. Brands including, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Nesquik, Dr. Pepper, Budweiser, SKIPPY Peanut Butter, Oscar Mayer, and dozens of others rushed to created responses using the #RIPeanut to advertise their own products. Even brands that lack a comparable mascot to Mr. Peanut or otherwise have no apparent connection to the brand or food industry joined in on the “fun,” such as Toyota (advertising one of their cars next to the peanut-mobile which led to the death of Mr. Peanut, yikes!), Crayola, and even… 1-800 Contacts?
Many unbranded Twitter users however, especially after the death of Bryant, called out Planters for their plans to exploit the online trends of mourning in order to sell commemorative peanut packing. One Twitter user responded by tweeting: “Planters has officially killed off @MrPeanut and will show his funeral in a commercial during the #SuperBowl . What’s next? The @Pillsbury Doughboy dying from a yeast infection?” The Planters’ team seemed to miss the irony of the post and re-tweeted the comment to their page.

Planters isn’t alone in partaking in bizarre advertising campaigns, particularly on Twitter, which actively work to personify and create distinct character traits for their brands and mascots. While Planters attempted to paint Mr. Peanut as a selfless hero, albeit disastrously, other brands like Wendy’s, Moon Pie and Netflix achieved success. Wendy’s mascot, Wendy “herself”, has become known as the “clap-back queen” of Twitter, known for replying to tweets in a sarcastic, oftentimes insulting manner. Moon Pie has taken on something I’ll call the “sad boi hours” approach, constantly uplifting other brands while putting on a rather anxious, almost depressive persona, which I assume was the brand’s attempt to relate to the humor of Millennial and Gen Z Twitter users. Most unsettlingly, Netflix takes the…um…horny approach, happily embracing the connotations of the popular phrase “Netflix and chill.”

The “death” of Mr. Peanut is a crude example of a unique marketing strategy backfiring. The death of beloved basketball player Kobe Bryant seemed to only further highlight the rather exploitative and tactless nature of Twitter and Super Bowl ad campaigns that have become the norm of modern-day branding. What’s next in marketing?

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