– Jason Sprenger – President, Game Changer Communications

2016, thus far, has been a busy year for celebrities passing away.  The shock and grief many people feel is palpable.  But it’s not just people reacting to these events anymore; in this new era of social media and creative advertising, it’s never been easier for companies and brands to react.

Take the death of Prince last month, for example.  It hadn’t even been a day after he passed before we started to see brands and companies issuing their own unique statements and remembrances.  3M converted its logo to purple and inserted a teardrop.  Corvette issued a full-page advertisement with a little red corvette pictured and the tagline “Baby, that was much too fast.” Cheerios also weighed in with a simple message, using a Cheerio to dot an “I” in there.  There were many more.

Almost instantaneously, the court of public opinion was in session.  It seemed most of these efforts were well received, and even applauded.  Yet there were others that people skewered early and often.  The reaction was so strong the Star Tribune caught on; I had the honor of being interviewed for a story on the subject, along with other leaders in the Twin Cities business community.

After some reflection on what we saw from brands around Prince’s death, and what the public had to say about it, I think there are some key takeaways we can glean about how to properly recognize and/or remember a celebrity in a situation such as this:


  • Be human. A big reason social media are so popular is because everyone has a chance to be authentic and themselves through their channels.  Accordingly, brands and companies should do exactly that.  They should convey emotions, if in fact they feel them.  They should console stakeholders, if it’s appropriate.  They generally should speak in the same voice as they normally would in any other post at any other time.
  • Be a part of your community. This can refer to geography; Prince’s death hit hard here in Minnesota because he was one of us.  As such, you saw a lot of local organizations weighing in on his death.  Similarly, it can refer to stakeholder groups and others with shared interests and experiences.  MTV played Prince videos the entire day he died, engaging with its audience in a way that made an impression on the people that hold MTV dear.
  • Relate shared experiences, if appropriate. This is where the Corvette ad was particularly fascinating; Prince song and lyric helped make the company famous, and Corvette paid appropriate homage.


  • Be opportunistic. Reactions usually strike people one of two ways: they feel genuine, or they feel forced.  If it feels like you’re reacting just for the sake of reacting, or that it isn’t appropriate, then you’re probably right – and the better decision would be not to react at all.  Items that just don’t fit tend to incur a lot of negative public opinion.
  • Be out of touch. Similar to being opportunistic, sometimes a reaction lays it on too thick.  Or an organization with no connections to a particular person or cause – or its followers – will reach out and engage.  These items also tend to be received poorly.

At the end of the day, it’s really pretty simple.  If it feels right, go for it.  If it doesn’t, then abstain.  Now, hopefully, we won’t need this tip list again anytime soon.