The Death of Mr. Peanut

For some brands, killing off a mascot or undergoing a significant change happens slowly and relatively behind the scenes because companies don’t want to receive bad feedback from their stakeholders. Things like the slow demise of Ronald McDonald or Dunkin’ officially dropping “Donuts” from its name are almost forced on a company by the public before a company officially gives in.

For Planters Peanuts, this was not the case recently as they have famously and suddenly decided to kill off their famed mascot, funeral and all. How did this campaign come about? Where is it heading? How is it being received?

Campaign start: Another Planters road trip …

This social media campaign started with business as usual for Planters: The Nutmobile (Planters’ peanut-shaped travelling automobile was ready to set off on a trip to the Big Game (Super Bowl LIV). This time around, though, the famous automobile would carry Mr. Peanut and Matt Walsh.

Jan. 22, 2020: Planters releases “Death of Mr. Peanut.”

Jan. 22 was the day that Planters Peanuts took over the internet as the company fully committed to the death of its 104-year-old mascot. Every social media channel that the company operated for Mr. Peanut was changed to “The Estate of Mr. Peanut,” and the video showcasing the mascot’s death via a Nutmobile accident was distributed on virtually every channel that the brand operates online.

This event drew a lot of attention from other brands as well as news outlets. Everyone from “The Today Show to The Chicago Bears and Georgia Tech, along with pretty much every peanut-related food brand and many more food brands, shared the video along with their condolences on Twitter. The social media campaign was starting to take on a life of its own, and Mr. Peanut was the talk of the day as people remembered his historic 104-year run as mascot.

Jan. 26, 2020: Planters pauses campaign after death of Kobe Bryant, others.

The Planters campaign came to a harsh halt recently following the actual death of famed basketball star and worldwide icon Kobe Bryant. Bryant, along with eight others, died on Sunday, Jan. 26 in Calabasas, California, due to a helicopter crash. This event put a twist on the entire Planters campaign as actual lives had been lost.

February 2, 2020: Planters airs the Super Bowl commercial.

Planters responded to this tragedy by hitting the brakes on their campaign, officially pausing all paid efforts on channels such as Twitter and YouTube. The company plans to “evaluate next steps through a lens of sensitivity to those impacted by this tragedy,” according to a statement from a company spokesperson emailed to AdWeek.

In case you missed it, Planters shifted its strategy for the Big Game in response to the Bryant tragedy. According to this AdAge report, the company cut its ad showing Mr. Peanut’s death from showing during the broadcast and moved its follow up ad depicting Mr. Peanut’s funeral to the second quarter instead of the third. This shift was made in conjunction with the newly-planned Kobe Bryant tribute to be aired during the halftime show. The third quarter ad slot, in case you were wondering, was given to corporate sister brand Heinz to air their commercial that was originally set for the third quarter.

The company shortly thereafter announced the birth of Baby Nut, a mascot who’s name leans into the mature and often cringe comedy of Brand Twitter. One will have to look at the company’s performance for the near future to see if this campaign had any substantial impact, but the initial reaction to Baby Nut from peers of mine is one of exhaustion and confusion. Why kill off Mr. Peanut just to bring him back?

Props to Planters for being flexible in its media planning and for at least attempting to shift its strategy after a tragic event. This entire experience can be seen as a lesson in media planning and an example of how you have to be flexible to avoid a public relations crisis. It will be interesting to see how Baby Nut evolves going forward and if the cringe humor of Brand Twitter lasts for this legacy brand’s latest campaign.

Zach FerenchakZach Ferenchak is a current junior studying emerging media at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He serves as Chapter president for Capital University PRSSA. He is an avid communicator who hopes to one day elevate brands and causes through effective storytelling. Feel free to follow him on Twitter, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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