What Should Skittles Do: The Case of Unwanted Free PR

Unless you’ve been completely disconnected from the news for the last few weeks, there’s no escaping the news about Trayvon Martin. As tensions flare and the story is pieced together, two companies have had their name attached to the tragedy: Skittles and Arizona Ice Tea.  Even the earliest news articles had mentioned that Trayvon was walking back home from buying both the candy and drink when the fatal altercation took place.  Since then, Skittles especially has found themselves in the headlines marching protestors have been carrying bags of Skittles, and filmmaker Spike Lee encouraged outraged citizens to mail thousands of bags of the candy to the Sanford, FL police chief in protest of no arrests being made.

Since then, people have been asking: Does Skittles owe anything for this free publicity?

The company Facebook page  ( which boasts 21.4 million likes) is still keeping it’s lighthearted tone intact. “Like this post if you think turtles should come with doorbells!” said one recent status update. “Fact: Skittles are the only things that taste as good in reality as they do in your dreams” was another update. To it’s credit, however, Skittles has also left any post mentioning Trayvon Martin. Some posts call for Skittles to take action on and make an announcement in support of the victim’s family, some call for the candy to make a generous donation for all of the free publicity. Some posts just keep a remembrance for Trayvon. The key is that the Skittles brand is monitoring their page for any hateful/derogatory comments, but not trying to sweep anything under the rug by deleting all comments that reference the tragedy. The brand has yet to reply to any of these comments.

So the question remains: Should Skittles make a statement or donation? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Making a statement or generous donation would be easy for such a large and famous brand ( the brand is owned by the WM Wrigley Jr Company, which is a division of Mars Candy). Such a move of good will could also buy them a lot of good publicity. Even if Skittles didn’t ask or want the kind of tragic attention they’ve been given ( who would?), they surely know this. What’s likely ( and what should  be done) is to wait until all of the evidence is provided before deciding if they should make a move. The story is fluid, and while the major elements stay the same, enough tiny details are constantly changing or coming into focus. If this all goes to trial, Skittles will surely feel the pressure to at least acknowledging the event.

Skittles may not have asked for this kind of publicity, and while they’re certainly not responsible either, how the brand handles this situation ( and if it continues to grow) could determine what kind of summer their public relations team is going to have. For now, they’re handling the situation perfectly.

2 comments on “What Should Skittles Do: The Case of Unwanted Free PR

  1. I don’t believe they have a reason to respond at all. What happened was tragic, yes, but had NOTHING to do with Skittles/Arizona as brands. The only thing important in the Travyvon/Zimmerman case is the truth of what happened, which we’ll likely never know as we don’t have the option of getting both sides of the story.

    If either of those companies made a statement at this point it could be viewed as them taking sides in the issue, at which point one has to wonder why? Why would Skittles or Arizona’s opinion matter? They just happened to be what Trayvon was consuming at the time, it doesn’t make any difference to the outcome of the investigation. If anything, I would view a statement by them as almost trying to intentionally capitalize more on a tragedy.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    While I agree that either product wasn’t directly responsible for the tragedy, the brands still have to be aware that people are ( whether it’s fair or not) linking them to a horrible situation. Sometimes a Public Relations crisis can emerge from something that’s not the company’s fault, but I personally feel that doesn’t mean they can neglect it.

    Depending on how the public’s opinion continues to take shape, a neutral and conceise statement might be necessary. I still feel that taking sides is a bad idea, but no one could fault them for offering their regrets and condolences. Or asking fans to give ( and perhaps giving themselves) to a charitable third party, such as a group that takes care of children who are the victims of crime.

    It’s a tough situation, and you raise a very good point about the risk of appearing to capitalize on the tragedy. However, it sounds like we both believe that the brand is doing the best thing for themselves right now by not making a statement/sweeping things under the rug. I’m sure the Skittles and Arizona Tea brands already have plans in place, but they’re holding back and trying to determine whether or not they should implement it.

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