We are only 8 months into 2016 and already there have been a record number of celebrity deaths. One of the most notable in recent weeks has been Prince. Social media was flooded with messages from celebrities and organisations mourning the popular singer. One such message, that got a lot of attention though, was that of DIY store Homebase, not because it moved people to tears, rather quite the opposite. The company was criticised for posting ‘Good morning everyone, happy Friday. If you need our assistance we’re here until 8pm today, get tweeting. Have a good day. #RIPPRINCE.’
Whilst the tweet was swiftly deleted, many people found a funny side, with one user replying ‘What colour does Prince use to paint his decking? Purple stain.’ I don’t know what the Homebase social media team were thinking when they posted the tweet, it may well have been nothing but an unfortunate misunderstanding, but could also be seen as a deliberate way of using a celebrity death to promote their company. Homebase is not the only guilty party, with Cheerios tweeting an image of “RIP Prince” with a Cheerio punctuating the ‘i.’
But the question is whether or not this is really immoral? With regards to hashtags, one might point out that the point of them is to allow users to find other things tagged with what they are saying, or simply wanting to read different views on a certain issue. It is a common marketing strategy to simply include a popular hashtag on the end of a promotional tweet in or to generate traffic, but I ask, is this really a successful marketing technique? All it does in my opinion is cause people to cynically snigger at a clutching-at-straws call for attention.
But some people, evidently, see jumping on a celebrity death in such a way as the lowest form of this variety of marketing. Some users, however, have expressed the aforementioned cynicism that such marketing often meets, with one user replying to Cheerios with ‘mysteriously, somehow, my love of prince and my sadness at his passing have transferred into a love of and desire for @cheerios. thank you.’ However, much like Homebase, Cheerios removed the tweet in the end.
But I’m going to be risky and suggest that perhaps this cynicism is uncalled for. I mean, if you’re sitting mourning your favourite singer’s death and you see a tweet for Homebase your reaction is either going to be angry or cynical. It definitely isn’t going to be to rush to the nearest outlet and purchase copious tins of paint that you don’t even need. And if it is your job to provide marketing for companies successful as these, I think you probably know that. For all we know, the social media staff of Cheerios may have been in floods of tears on the morning of Prince’s death, and though they’d show their feelings by making a dedication with a personal twist. Acts that begin with good intentions are often met with such criticism, and over-the-top shaming is something that twitter excels at, but is such shaming always justifiable? I don’t know.