Sometimes, when I check Twitter, all I can think is that Shakespeare quote that goes, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
That’s the most coherent way I can describe how I felt when I saw the following tweet go viral: “It is with heavy hearts that we confirm that Mr. Peanut has died at 104. In the ultimate selfless act, he sacrificed himself to save his friends when they needed him most. Please pay your respects with #RIPeanut.”
Ever since the emergence of social media, brands have been creating internet personalities. Anyone who used Tumblr in the 2010s is familiar with the weird, ominous, abstract humor and memes on the Denny’s blog. Wendy’s became known for its Twitter persona, where it started beef with other fast food restaurants (as well as customers) online.
At first, these seemed a little funny, but then it got overused and boring, or companies would use a funny meme and beat it to death with advertising.
Brands have always capitalized off the human experience. “Sex sells,” and so do love, friendship, excitement, family bonding, etc. And now, apparently, death sells.
It’s not that I find #RIPeanut offensive. It’s not. It’s just a strange marketing technique that seems desperate.
Several days after the initial campaign was “announced,” Planters stated it was putting it on hold due to the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash (possibly because Mr. Peanut was depicted in a commercial falling off a branch after a car accident, saving his friends).
The creative director of the ad campaign, Mike Pierantozzi, said, “We started talking about how the internet reacts when someone dies – specifically, we were thinking about fictional characters, (like when) Iron Man died.”
I understand where he’s coming from, but I think people connect with stories, with books, comics and movies, because they’re art, and they tell stories.
Brands sell a product, and mascots are an extension of a brand that attempt to humanize it, to sell a product.
The whole ad was humorous. It seems like it was meant to be satirical if what Pierantozzi said is the truth, but there were shocking amounts of sincere reactions from people about this.
There was also an onslaught of other brands and corporations sending out thoughts and prayers or well wishes toward Planters and Mr. Peanut over social media.
Maybe we shouldn’t mourn fictional characters. After all, they’re not real, and people are getting rich off the death of Iron Man the same way they would have been off Mr. Peanut had Planters not paused the campaign.
Perhaps the difference is that people have motivations for creating books and movies besides just the money. They have a story to tell. Mr. Peanut has no story besides being a sentient nut with a top hat, monocle and cane that’s slapped on packs of peanuts so people will associate a face with a brand.
I don’t like the Denny’s Tumblr, I don’t like sassy Wendy on Twitter and I don’t like the death of Mr. Peanut.
It all feels corny and forced, regardless of the intent behind it. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that as much as corporations use cutesy mascots and try to assign them personalities, they’re not people. As the old Garfield meme goes, “You are not immune to propaganda.”