For the past few weeks I’ve been watching an atypical type of public relations crisis unravel — that of Skittles.
Skittles, you know, the taste the rainbow, fruity, sugary hard candy you chomped on endlessly until you hit university and gained the Freshmen 15.
Yes, that Skittles.
Why, you say?
Because of Trayvon Martin: the 17-year old teen who was carrying only a packet of Skittles and a drink when he was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman.
The strangest part of the aftermath from the Trayvon Martin shooting is Skittles are flying off the shelves.
With protests, calls for further investigation and accusations being thrown in all directions, nationally and internationally, it begs the conjecture — if hoodies can symbolize racial profiling, then Skittles must symbolize young innocence.
This symbolism has university student governments buying it in bulk and reselling it to raise money for Martin’s family (Spelman College being the primary example.)
The candy is showing up at rallies crammed into the pockets of those who attend in Martin’s name as well as are being piled into makeshift memorials.
In some cases, Skittles have been sent to the Sanford Police Department to protest the lack of an arrest for Zimmerman.
Needless to say, sales are soaring for Wrigley, the company who manufactures Skittles.
But what can be seen as an economic profit, is threatening to hurt the company, more than help them.
In fact, Wrigley has already been accused of profiting from Martin’s death.
While, publicly stating that they are “saddened” by the death of Martin and have nothing but respect for his family, Wrigley has said they feel it is,
“inappropriate to get involved or comment further as we would never wish for our actions to be perceived as an attempt of commercial gain following this tragedy.”
Wrigley is in an interesting position here: they don’t want to alienate existing and potential customers (#fail because with that statement they already have), but also Wrigley does not want to be seen as the big, bad capitalist corporation profiting from murder.
But it’s already happened.
Obviously, going down the path of profiting from an unexpected opportunity is not the right thing to do.
- Is donating some of Wrigley’s new found profits the right thing to do?
- Or is staying silent and watching how things turn out a better option?
According to the New York Times, people are calling for Wrigley to donate their new found funds and give something back to communities where â€œmurder based on stereotypes is a reoccurring theme:â€
“On social media sites like Twitter, people are suggesting that Wrigley is profiting greatly from the tragedy and should donate money made since Trayvonâ€™s death to the family or causes that would help with racial reconciliation or underprivileged communities. Some African-Americans are even asking people to stop buying Skittles until the company gets more involved in the case and donates money.”
Frankly, I think Wrigley should take a stand to do and say something.
I like the idea of setting up youth centers in Florida or starting community groups that promote interracial harmony along the lines of what Russell Simmons has been preaching:
“Trayvon Martin didn’t die so we can create a race war he died so we can promote better understanding. We must start honest dialogue…”
What about starting a university scholarship for potential law students in Florida who specifically want to study criminal and civil rights laws?
I’m sure a partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund would not be unwelcome.
Having worked with them as client while I was working at Burson-Marsteller (2010-2011), I know that this would be something John Payton would have appreciated.
As public relations practitioners, trained throughout our careers to deal with such instances in transparency, strategy and with saying the right thing, this is a situation where, “I’m sorry,” is not enough.
So what is enough?
Some think it’s more about the right to bear arms and gun control, like food critic Regina Schrambling.
This entire situation really bothers me.
Watching the tapes of Martin’s mother and seeing a public out cry for justice day after day makes me sad.
Sasha H. Muradali owns the Little Pink Blog (part of Little Pink Book PR, LLC.) Sasha holds a MA International Administration with a concentration in Intercultural Communication from the University of Miami and a BS Public Relations and Dance from the University of Florida. She has been featured in Forbes, CNN and Business Week. Sasha tweets fervidly (@SashaHalima), loves Harry Potter and the colour pink. Find her on LinkedIn, get a copy of the Little Pink Blog delivered to your Kindle and ‘LIKE’ us on Facebook.
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