Agency + Industry / public-relations

Skittles Faces PR Controversy in Wake of Trayvon Martin’s Death

There are some pretty standard situations that those in the food service industry and their talented PR firms are prepared to deal with — a customer getting food poisoning, slipping and falling, choking or even spilling a coffee and burning themselves. But what should a company do when their product unintentionally becomes a symbol of racial injustice?

Travon Martin Skittles

Skittles is seeing a huge increase in sales and not everyone is happy about it. In February, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American male, was shot down by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, FL. Trayvon was wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles and an ice tea. As a result, a hoodie and a bag of skittles became the symbols against racial injustice and the identity of the moment to protest the unjust death. Skittles have been purchased in bulk and resold to raise money for the Martin family, handed out at rallies and even sent to the Sanford Police Department to protest their lack of an arrest after the shooting.

Sales are up and Skittles became an iconic symbol of the injustice, yet some are angry about this. After their sales soared, Wrigley was accused of profiting off Trayvon Martin’s death. On Twitter people suggested that Wrigley should donate some of the new profits to the family or the cause while other said that the candy should be boycotted until they get more involved.

Right now Wrigley has stayed quiet on the subject and only made neutral responses. “We are deeply saddened by the news of Trayvon Martin’s death and express our sincere condolences to his family and friends,” Wrigley spokesperson Jennifer Jackson-Lut said in a statement. “We also respect their privacy and feel it 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.”

Is this the right way to handle the situation? Should Wrigley donate money or embrace the status they have been given? Will acting either way tarnish their brand image and reputation?

It’s definitely a difficult choice for Wrigley to make. Even if they donate money they will most likely be criticized for how much they donate. After all, they cannot donate all of their new profits. And what if their involvement in the matter causes people to think they are capitalizing on the tragedy as they will undoubtedly be avoiding a ban of their product?

So far it seems that Skittles is playing it smart by not taking an active approach to the crisis. Skittles is not the only product that has been associated with tragedy (remember “Don’t Drink the Kool Aid?”) and by dealing with it correctly they have a chance to eventually spare their name.

What do you think Wrigley should do?