Last week, Skittles declined to capitalize on a potentially viral conversation after Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out a photo comparing the candy to Syrian Refugees. In PR Week, Skittles was praised by numerous PR pros for its decision to distance itself from the matter rather than exploit the brand mention. While I’m in agreement that Skittles made the right call, I I found PR Week’s analysis of the situation to miss the point entirely.
PR Week and the commentators quoted in the article praised Skittles decision not to play into the discussion in order to avoid controversy. However, in my opinion, avoiding controversy isn’t why Skittles should be praised. They should be praised because they declined to insert themselves in a conversation that is not relevant to who they are or what they stand for. This is what is truly notable – and is an example that more brands would do well to follow this campaign cycle.
For example, during Monday’s first presidential debate, I found myself served a promoted Tweet from Bisquick encouraging me to #VotePancakes or #VoteWaffles in America’s “Breakfast Debate.” The Tweet included a video of a waffle and a pancake on top of human figures “squaring” off in a debate. Bisquick could learn a thing or two from Skittles. While the Tweet drove engagement, it also fueled negative commentary amongst numerous potential fans who were quick to point out Bisquick’s misguided attempt to insert themselves in a trending topic irrelevant to their business.
Bisquick wasn’t the only brand that tried to capitalize on the high-profile presidential debate. In an article entitled “How advertisers turned the presidential debate into a new Super Bowl,” The Washington Post reported that the broadcast and cable networks sold ads during their pre- and post-debate coverage at rates of more than $200,000 for a 30-second spot. Fox News even confirmed that all their ad space between 7pm and midnight Monday had sold out. Audi and Tecate were just a couple of the brands that advertised in these spots – they even created new spots just for the event.
While all of these brands likely achieved their objectives of driving reach by capitalizing on the debate, I’d love to know how their debate marketing impacted brand perception. Whether its politics or something far less controversial, capitalizing on a conversation that has nothing do with your brand is never a good idea. The potential risk is often more likely to outweigh the short term benefits. Skittles clearly recognized that last week and more brands would do well to follow their lead this election season.