Would any sane person connect the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash Sunday — an all-too-real tragedy — with the PR stunt cooked up by Planters Peanuts: the notional death of its fictional mascot, Mr. Peanut, announced last week and set to be solemnized during the Super Bowl?
Yes, the internet is fueled by outrage. People online are incredibly touchy. But are they that incredibly touchy? The idea seems — pardon the pun — a little nuts.
But Planters — owned by Kraft Heinz, somehow co-headquartered in Chicago and Pittsburgh — obviously worried the connection would be made. So it suspended the online publicity blitz, while still planning to run a 30-second Super Bowl commercial Sunday featuring Mr. Peanut’s funeral. So toning down the publicity, out of one corner of its mouth, while blasting it to the world out of the other.
The whole campaign was a mistake. The smart, strategic route would have been to just quietly put Mr. Peanut out to pasture, the way Campbell’s Soup exiled its tomato-cheeked Kids. Ready to return when needed.
Given the genuine general public grief about this tragedy — Kobe Bryant, not Mr. Peanut — affecting not only basketball fans, but anyone saddened to see a father of four cut down in the act of being a good parent, it seems Planter’s should have shown some spine, trusted consumers, and ignored any online trolls lunging to cast Mr. Peanut’s death as an insult to Bryant’s memory.
Ironic. Mr. Peanut was designed to address public scorn, not inflate it. Since everything that could be said about Bryant is being said, I wanted to highlight something the media missed in the first days after Mr. Peanut’s demise: how Planters got an anthropomorphic peanut as a mascot in the first place. Top hat, monocle, and white gloves — kind of upscale for a comestible that at the time was considered food for swine and the poor.
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