A Deceased Brand Icon + Social Media = Peanutiness

Right now, I’m guessing the folks at Planters are wishing they’d opted for Super Bowl Concept #2, which did not involve the pre-game death of Mr. Peanut in his NUTmobile, to be followed by his scheduled “funeral” during the Super Bowl spot. 

The company could have depicted the 104-year-old icon’s charitable work with people suffering from nut allergies. Or perhaps Concept #3: Mr. Peanut teaming with Wesley Snipes for pro bono counseling of people facing prison time for failing to file tax returns.

But no, brand strategists chose to kill a fictitious icon for the sheer publicity of it. And they got tons—until unreality intruded.

Instead of keeping its lid sealed after the untimely death of Kobe Bryant, Planters succumbed to heaven knows what advice and publicly announced it was putting a hold on some of its pre-game “funeral” messaging. (But not the pricey Super Bowl funeral spot itself, as of this writing.) 

How the deaths of Mr. Peanut and Bryant could possibly be conflated is beyond me. Maybe it’s because I completely ignore all social media—itself a contradiction in terms, because that sector of the digital world is quite often extremely unsocial. So I’ll refer to it hereafter as sometimes-social media (SSM).

Planters seems to have bizarrely overreacted to SSM comments about the convergence of the Mr. Peanut and Bryant obits. On YouTube late this week, The Estate of Mr. Peanut had turned off comments under the video (at that point: 6.5 million views) showing the fatal NUTmobile accident.

Given that the main reason people disable YouTube comments is to hide negative banter, one can only imagine the wacky discourse that Planters’ SSM caretakers have been weathering 24/7. To them, my sensitive and sincere condolences.

I reached out to a Planters PR rep to ask about the exclusion of YouTube comments, but heard nothing but crickets. We all know how time-consuming funeral arrangements can be.

Frankly, when I first heard about Mr. Peanut’s demise, I would have bet a significant amount of money that Planters was planning to somehow resuscitate him during his “funeral” commercial. But how could that happen now? 

Imagine the SSM backlash: “You’re bringing back Mr. Peanut but not Kobe? WTF?!?”

John Trahar, founder/strategy and creative lead at the advertising agency and production company Greatest Common Factory, asks, “What was the upside of the concept before reality earned them some free media? I used to preach, keep the words Super Bowl out of the brief. It leads to talking animals, talking babies and sometimes, Wesley Snipes comebacks.” 

Adds Mark Ray, chief creative officer at ad agency North, "If you're going to kill off your mascot with a big, spendy, fancy marketing party, maybe choose a time when there isn't a chance of a high-profile human dying at the same time. In other words, never!" 

While it’s easy to second-guess—with 20-20 hindsight—how brands should react to SSM, I think it’s safe to say Planters has made it quite difficult for other companies to eliminate their own brand icons. 

Kill off the Trix Rabbit? (“Animal cruelty!”) 

Seen enough of Aunt Jemima? (Good luck with that one.) 

Progressive’s Flo character? Wait, someone imitating Flo appeared in a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit filmed in hell along with…wait for it…Mr. Peanut.


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