Using a Dead Celebrity to Awkwardly Promote Your Brand on Social Media

The tradition of mourning heroes and famous figures dates back to The Egyptians and the Mayans who built massive shrines to worship their royals; the Greeks and Romans who organized massive funerals to commemorate poets and military heroes. In the 19th century, Victor Hugo’s funeral drew millions of people to the streets of Paris, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was broadcasted live around the world and how can we forget the heartbreaking funeral of Lady Diana attended by thousands of mourners (The Guardian, 2015)

In recent times, death of celebrities evokes displays of public mourning. However, mourning has taken a new form, it now takes place mostly on social media. The three most famous celebrity deaths that come to mind at the time of penning down this blog are those of Sir Robin Williams, Paul Walker and Sir Alan Rickman. What I witnessed on social media during these deaths included people digging up old archival footage, the run-down of memorable moments, blog posts, articles, and RIP status updates and the heartfelt tributes from other celebrities and anyone else who might have crossed paths with the star. I have personally shared status updates and dug up archival footage when Sir Alan Rickman died- it was tough imagining a world without Professor Snape.

“One of the less welcome parts of this outpouring of remembrance comes from the social media marketers of major brands, who seem to feel obligated to pitch in with product-placement condolences” (Mashable, 2016). An example of one such unwelcome remembrance from social media marketers was witnessed at the untimely death of music legend Prince late last month.


In order to stay relevant and be a part in the ongoing conversation, several brands tried to pay tribute to the Purple Rain crooner. Only a few managed to post subtle and sincere tributes, others awkwardly jumped on the bandwagon and used the news as an opportunity to promote themselves and their products.

Here are a few examples of brands that tried to pay tribute to Prince but failed miserably:



Cheerios’ tribute tweet was accused of being “tasteless” and prompted widespread disdain and anger. It was later deleted.



This DIY brand’s shameless self-promotion with the tribute that was added as an afterthought made everyone cringe. Probably the most ill-thought out Prince tribute.

Hamburger Helper:


This tribute by the brand flippantly, and stupidly, threw the brand mascot into the caption.

Getty Images:


“This tweet from Getty Images is a straight-up ad. It links to Prince photos available for purchase on the site. As helpful as that might be for news sites today, it’s inappropriate” (AdWeek, 2016)


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A good example of a terrible tribute where it was all about the brand and hardly anything genuine about the legend was communicated. He was more than just purple.

I understand that in order to build relationships with fans on social media, brands have to get involved in cultural conversations like those around a celebrity death. However, my advice to brands would be to pause before posting your tribute and ask yourself if it makes sense for you to get involved? Remember, a heartfelt and genuine tribute can definitely gain you the respect of the dead celebrity’s fans but if you try to use it as an opportunity to shamelessly promote your brand, then be prepared to face the wrath of those loyal fans. Good luck trying to save that reputation!

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