With many major brands having years of social media experience under their belts, one would expect that the most cringeworthy examples of social media faux pas would be well in the past.

But that isn't the case.

Case in point: last week, Cheerios, the cereal brand owned by General Mills, found itself in hot water after the Minnesota-based company posted a tweet in response to the death of Prince.

It contained a "Rest in Peace" graphic in which the dot in the letter i was a Cheerio. Not surprisingly, many in the Twittersphere found the tweet to be in very poor taste.

While numerous other brands paid their respects to Prince on social media, the Cheerios tweet rubbed many people the wrong way because instead of keeping things simple and respectful, it incorporated the brands into the memorial.

When you have a brand, every event is not a cow

Why did Cheerios do such a thing? Welcome to branding in the age of social media.

Marketers are more focused than ever on promoting their brands, and social media channels like Twitter provide plenty of opportunities to insert a brand into the conversation without much effort.

In some cases, these opportunities are worthwhile.

For example - and apologies for harking back to this again - when the power went out during the Super Bowl, Oreo used its agile marketing savvy to seize the moment with the perfect tweet.

But obviously, the death of a beloved public figure is not the same as a blackout at a sporting event.

The Cheerios tweet demonstrates that too many marketers are so focused on branding anything and everything that they're not using common sense or recognizing that some things just shouldn't have a brand imprint.

Common sense still isn't so common

Unfortunately, common sense still isn't so common in social media. 

While it is true that bad publicity frequently doesn't have long lasting effects in social media, brands shouldn't make a habit of tweeting without thinking.

That's precisely what Cheerios did when it attempted to turn a death into a branding opportunity.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 April, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

Dave Endsor

Dave Endsor, Digital Executive at Tank PR

The 3M one is especially bad. Sharing a home state means they could have put out a strong message about his influence and how it has benefitted Minnesota over the years.

You can see what they were trying to do with their logo but it wasn't a clever move. Smart people, trying to be too clever!

about 1 year ago

Minter Dial

Minter Dial, President at The Myndset CompanySmall Business Multi-user

When Steve Jobs died, other brands and media were smart to use the Apple logo with the profile of Jobs or a tear... Here some of the ways newspapers did it... A good indication I'd say. http://www.poynter.org/2011/apple-tech-blogs-news-sites-pay-tribute-to-steve-jobs/148438/ Different spirit altogether.

about 1 year ago

Ben Lloyd

Ben Lloyd, CEO at Tech Write

Jumping on bandwagons has always been crass, social media has merely increased the audience for these bad decisions. Barring a shared home town, these brands had nothing in common with Prince, so there was no need for them (or any other brand for that matter) to comment.

Shared condolences from unaffiliated brands is not just insensitive - it's disingenuous and dishonest. Two qualities no brand wants.

about 1 year ago

Helaina Berry

Helaina Berry, Lead Generation and Appointment Setting Consultant at Australia Solar Leads

I love the caption "Common sense still isn't common". Yeah, it hurts but it's true. Branding in social media is a very important task for marketers because we all know the social media is an amazing medium to reach your target customers but there are limitation. And these limitations must not be put aside for the sake of having a high revenue. Cheerios did really crossed the line. I hope this kind attitude will be modified to a more moral attitude.

about 1 year ago

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